Mole crickets threatened Orange County crops 100 years ago; this is how they responded

Published 12:14 am Saturday, February 18, 2023

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Newly hired Orange County Agricultural Agent G. C. Ellisor found mole crickets threatening Orange County crops and collected specimens to send to Texas A & M College.

The college would inspect the cricket specimens and then add them to their large collection of farm pests on exhibit at the college.

Ellisor stated the mole cricket is one of the most destructive insects known in this section of the state. The cricket is rarely seen due to its remaining several inches and sometimes several feet underground where they burrow around the roots of plants causing the plants to die.

The cricket subsists on plant roots. one cricket is capable of covering several yards of territory, making it possible for a comparative few to destroy thousands of dollars worth of vegetable or other plants.

Because the cricket remains deep underground, it is difficult to destroy. They do not often feed on leaves or other parts of plants above ground. They cannot be poisoned as easily as can weevils or other such pests.

“Skunks are said by the farmers to be the best means of destroying the mole crickets, as they are to be considered choice morsels of food by the skunks who hunt their places and dig them out,” Ellisor said.

“We will try, however, to find someway in which the insect can be destroyed so that the farmers of Orange County can stop the loss they incur each year.”

Ellisor was soliciting the aid of the Texas A&M College experts in trying to find some means of combating the mole crickets.

Ellisor had only recently been hired as the agricultural agent for Orange County. He had previously been the County Farm Demonstration Agent in Cleveland, Texas. He applied for the job in Orange County and had been interviewed by the commissioners court. He had the endorsement of Texas A&M College having taken and passed the examinations given by the college.

At the time he applied for the Orange County job, he had the minimum six months experience as an assistant county agricultural agent required for certification by the college.

He was hired by the Orange County Commissioners Court on Feb. 12, 1923, and began duties at that time.

Mole crickets were introduced into the southern United States by being in the ballast of ships that had been in Central and South America. They soon infested Georgia and Florida and spread along the Gulf Coast states.

Over the years research was done in the feeding and breeding habits of the crickets, and it was found there were simple ways to check for infestation. A strong solution of soapy water could be poured over about a two-feet square of suspected land. In only a few minutes crickets would emerge.

This would give an indication of contamination and the area could be treated.

There were natural and chemical ways developed to eliminate the crickets. One of the most interesting natural ways was to roll small pieces of rye bread into balls about the size of a walnut, the bread would then be moistened.

Ten to 12 matches would be inserted into the ball, head first, and left until the coating on the match head dissolved. The sticks would be removed, and the ball separated into small balls about the size of a pea.

Those balls would then be spread on the contaminated area. Crickets will come out of their burrows at night to feed. They would take the balls back into their burrows and feed on them.

The chemicals from the match head would be fatal to the crickets.

Chemicals of various types were developed to kill the crickets and are now available at most feed stores and lawn and garden stores.

“And now you know.”

— Written by Mike Louviere