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March “mole cricket” madness

Eighteen and counting! Over the last few evenings, eighteen tawny mole crickets were captured in my backyard using a soap-flushing technique. Mole crickets are very lively this year and reports of activity are coming in earlier than normal. Even though their presence is alarming, it’s still not the time of year to treat for these exotic invaders.

Mole crickets cause millions of dollars in turf and grass damage each year. Their burrowing in the soil breaks up the soil and causes roots to dry out. They also feed on the young grass roots, causing grasses to die. The most severe injury occurs in the summer and early fall, when the young are maturing and actively looking for food.

Mole crickets spend most of their lives underground. Their front legs are strong and adapted for digging, and they can dig into light soils remarkably rapidly. Their digging action is called tunneling, but they actually make three kinds of cavities in the ground.

Tunnels are the deeper mines they make in the ground. Galleries are the horizontal mines made just below the soil surface, causing the soil to bulge upward above the surface. The third kind of cavity is the egg chamber made by females. Galleries are made mainly at night, apparently as the mole crickets are foraging in search of food, just below the soil surface. Galleries made in sandy soils are collapsed by rain. Heavy rains clear sandy areas of galleries, so that galleries appearing after a heavy rain are evidence of fresh mole cricket activity.

Mole cricket activity disturbs the soil surface

If you notice galleries in your lawn, mix two tablespoons of lemon-scented liquid dishwashing detergent in two gallons of water. Pour the soapy water onto a two-by-two foot area of suspected activity. Any mole crickets present will surface in a few minutes. This is best done early or late in the day. Irrigate the area after flushing to minimize sun scalding of the turf. This technique can be used at other times during spring to fall to confirm the presence of mole crickets and to monitor development.

Mole cricket emerging from the soil following a drenching by soaping water

The mole crickets brought to the surface in spring are adults. Adults begin emerging from overwintering burrows in late February and March. Peak activity is in late March, April and May. Chemical treatment at this time is typically not recommended. However, removal of mole crickets that you flush from your lawn is a great way to reduce their population.

Mole cricket adults are large and difficult to kill with chemicals

Effective mole cricket control depends on the season of the year and the life stages that the pests are in at the time. Mole cricket control is not a one-time, one-insecticide application. Control depends on an annual, well-timed plan. Timing of controls and cultural practices is as important as the choice of insecticides.

The major effort in mole cricket control with insecticides should be directed toward young nymphs. Treatments in June, July, and even early August on the more vulnerable nymphs are more effective than later treatments on larger mole crickets. So, if you have mole cricket adults now, continue to monitor using the soap flush technique. Once you start seeing the young nymphs then consider an application of an appropriate insecticide. Contact your local Extension Office for control options.

Several very effective biological controls are now available for control of pest mole crickets. For more information on a fascinating control option using a parasitic wasp, view the online video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dom_N-d7YuE.

By the way, I’m now up to twenty!

Permanent link to this article: http://santarosa.ifas.ufl.edu/blog/2012/03/21/march-mole-cricket-madness/