Thursday, January 24, 2008


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/22/08)

Robert Benchley, the great humorist of two generations pervious and grandfather of Peter Benchley of Jaws fame, while leaving the Algonquin Hotel in New York City, asked a uniformed man at the curb to hail a taxicab for him. The uniformed man replied, “I’m sorry, but I’m an Admiral in the United States Navy.” Benchley replied, “O, that’s all right, then get me a battleship.”

I learned more about human anatomy reading his parody, “Through the Alimentary Canal with Gun and Camera,” than any textbook I ever read.

In a grasshopper invasion, gardeners often feel the need of a battleship such as the U.S.S. Iowa with its 18 inch rifles ablaze. The problem is “collateral damage,” a military euphemism for killing of innocent people. Rather than big guns, grasshoppers are better fought with cunning by defeating them with their weaknesses.

Akin to a blitzkrieg, a lightning war, an invasion of grasshoppers can only be fought with counter-terrorist tactics. In war the difference between strategy and tactics is the difference between a plan of action and the means by which that plan is executed. With an inexhaustible reservoir of grasshoppers annihilation isn’t possible. A pre-emptive strike won’t work because they’re everywhere.

The strategy is to cripple and reduce them to ineffectiveness with a series of tactics both repeated and diverse, a comprehensive defense well in place before the attacks begin.

The first line of defense is a lethal series of traps. A fixed line of defense, such as the French Maginot Line in World War II, won’t work because the grasshoppers will pull an end-run, just as the Germans did in 1941. In a mobile defense, the traps are placed where grasshoppers are likely to attack, such as those bare undisturbed spots where the pods of eggs are buried, especially in the garden’s perimeter.

An effective trap is both attractive and lethal. Grasshoppers find wheat bran toothsome. Mixed with either NoLo or Sevin, it is both attractive and lethal, a real winner.

NoLo, short for Nosema locustae, isn’t a poison, but a disease which favors grasshoppers and isn’t a threat to anyone else, such as children, pets, and birds. Sevin is the commercial name for the pesticide carbaryl. While there have been no reports of human deaths from carbaryl, it’s still a poison and must be used carefully as with any deadly weapon. As a recipient of friendly fire years ago, I urge caution since carbaryl is lethal to a gardener’s allies, honey bees, parasitic wasps, birds, and lady bugs.

If carbaryl is sprayed as a big gun, collateral damage will result so it’s best used instead with wheat bran. Happily, carbaryl disintegrates rapidly, loosing its lethal potency, but this means repeated use.

The traps are best laid in barren spots and amongst tall grasses where our allies won’t suffer collateral damage and far away from bird feeders and plants attractive to honey bees. An in-depth defense for those grasshoppers who make it through the perimeter defense are tin cans with both ends cut out, partially sunk in the soil, placed in the middle of the garden with the bait placed inside the can.

Older and more developed grasshoppers will take longer to die than the nymphs. They will become lethargic, jumping about as though drunk, easy target for their cannibalistic kindred.

Since grasshoppers never stop, NoLo and Sevin should be applied regularly from early spring to late autumn. Happily, NoLo has a residual effect and may carryover from year to year, gradually building up a lethal arsenal, even afflicting the egg-laden pods.

The next line of defense is airborne, such as squadrons of birds and praying mantis. Several bird feeders throughout the yard help to develop a resident corps of birds ready to attack from the air. Pods of praying mantis eggs purchased from commercial nurseries can be hung in trees. When hatched they favor grasshoppers. Turkeys and other domesticated fowl, if allowed by local government, devour grasshoppers with gusto.

When spotted, the only response is that of Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey, Jr., of World War II fame. “Strike, Repeat Strike.”

Copyright © Dana Prom smith 2008

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