When I was a kid here in Tampa, we called them locusts and my best friend, Leigh, was always trying to trick her little brother into eating one.
Willard, like other small mammals, must have instinctively read the Eastern lubber grasshopper's bright red and yellow stripes and spots as a warning: "DANGER! I am poison" and told his big sister she could eat her after-school snack herself because, as far as I know, he survived to adulthood.
I share this fond memory because, though much about Tampa has changed since I was 10, lubbers have not. They've been showing up like clockwork every March in my garden for years, clusters of newly hatched black nymphs bristling atop plants and on patio furniture. They're all bug-eyed innocence, but they don't fool me, and they shouldn't fool you, either.
Lubber babies must die.
Normally, I'm a live-and-let-live kind of gardener. I do dispatch the slugs and aphids, scale and tomato hornworms, but I bear them no ill will. In fact, I feel a little sorry for the slugs and hornworms; it's hard to work up similar emotion for pests that I can't see without my glasses.
Lubbers are another matter altogether. As hulking 3-inch adults, they're contemptuous and condescending; they look me in the eye and dare me to try to stop them making a meal of my entire garden —and they love every plant I grow, including weeds. They think their toxic-warning colors and non-biodegradable exoskeleton are a license to trespass, and they're annoyingly smug about it.
Because, for the most part, they're right. The lubber's only natural predator is the loggerhead shrike, a cool little bird that decapitates them and then impales their carcasses on thorns or barbed-wire fences so the sun can bake out the toxins before mealtime.
Lacking a nest of shrikes, the best way to beat the lubbers is to get them now, while they're babies. Some insecticides will kill young lubbers if you hit them directly; they're not very effective on adults, though. The University of Florida suggests looking for products with one of these ingredients: carbaryl, bifenthrin, cyhalothrin, permethrin or esfenvalerate.
You can also use your hand to sweep the whole cluster into a bucket of soapy water or do the smash-and-stomp — both of which are very "green" pesticides, I might add.
Last year and this, I'm using a fairly new product I've heard people rave about. Nolo Bait is an organic biological insecticide camouflaged in yummy wheat bran. Sprinkle it around your garden, or wherever you've seen lubbers, and when the nymphs eat it, they die. When adults eat it, some may die but most are rendered impotent, so they can't lay eggs for the Class of 2013.
I started using Nolo Bait late last April, and I'm sure I saw significantly fewer adults over the summer than I had the previous couple years. But I've already spotted a few clusters of nymphs, so earlier this week, I picked up another $21, 1-pound bag of the stuff at Shell's Feed Store, 9513 N Nebraska Ave., Tampa — the only place I know of locally that sells it. (Call ahead before you make a trip; they've been selling out regularly. You can also order online at www.goodbug.com.)
Since it gets ruined when it gets wet, Shell's suggests making little bait stations out of small pipe sections or toilet paper rolls. Put the Nolo Bait inside, and it's somewhat protected from dew. Now's a great time for Nolo Bait not only because of its effectiveness on nymphs, but because spring is usually so darned dry.
A couple other notes about Nolo Bait: Your bag will be marked with a formulation date. It's good for only about 13 weeks after that date. Also, it should be stored in a cool place. Optimum temperature is 42 degrees. I just keep mine in the house.
I have high hopes that this year I'm getting the Nolo Bait out early enough to scratch lubbers off my list of summer garden worries — it's already way too long.
But if not, lubbers be warned, I have malice in my heart and heartless snippers in my hand. And they're color-blind.
Penny Carnathan can be reached at [email protected] Catch more local gardening stories at Penny's blog, www.digginfladirt.com or join her and other gardeners chatting at www.facebook.com/digginfloridadirt.