Tena Pierce of Madison took action immediately the Friday afternoon she and her husband discovered the invasion that left brown spots in their front lawn.
“We ran up to our local nursery and they sold us a product and said, ‘This will do it,’” said Pierce, a retired employee of Entergy.
Sure enough the insecticide that Tena Pierce’s husband, Duane, sprayed on their Bermuda grass did the job and wiped out the invading fall armyworms, damaging pests that can defoliate an entire yard or field almost overnight.
Here’s the bad news: Armyworms, so named because their numbers are highest in late summer and fall, probably aren’t gone yet.
Homeowners as well as hay producers, cattlemen and turf managers can expect to deal with the unpredictable pests until frost, said Blake Layton, an entomologist with the Mississippi State Extension Service.
Maur McKie, who with his wife, Karen, owns Green Oak Florist & Garden Center, said more and more people are coming in with questions about how to control armyworms.
“We are hearing there’s an uptick from what they’ve been in the last couple of years,” he said. “Some years you don’t see any activity. This is a year we’re experiencing a rise in them.
“If you don’t treat them, they can wipe a lawn out in no time, really overnight. They come in such numbers so it’s just a like an army that marches through your lawn.”
Armyworms arrive each summer when moths migrate into the state from the Caribbean, Mexico and areas of South America.
Fall armyworms are caterpillars that reach about 1½ inches long at maturity, Layton said. An armyworm’s body color, punctuated with dark spots, varies from green or tan to dark brown or almost black, depending on their stage of development and diet.
When armyworms metamorphose into moths, they are about ¾ inch long when resting with their wings folded. Moths are active at night and spend the day resting in foliage.
Eggs hatch in two to five days, and the newly emerged larvae begin feeding on the underside of leaf blades. Their feeding habits result in tiny, white “windowpanes” in the leaf blades or a white frizzing of the leaf tips, Layton said.
Damage caused by young caterpillars is easy to overlook because fall armyworms do 80 percent to 90 percent of their feeding in the last two to three days of their life.
“By the time they are ¾ to 1 inch long, fall armyworm caterpillars are leaf-eating machines that rapidly consume large amounts of leaf area,” Layton said. “Multiply the leaf consumption of a single caterpillar by the hundreds of thousands of caterpillars per acre that occur during heavy outbreaks, and it is easy to understand how fall armyworms can cause such rapid defoliation.”
The severity of infestations depends upon when the moths arrive, how many arrive, where in the state they arrive and the weather conditions they experience when they get here, Layton said.
Philip Hollimon of Madison, a real estate closing attorney, said armyworms heavily invaded his backyard, moderately took on his side yard and hardly bothered his front yard. The damage resembled a “brownish blanket” across his backyard.
“It’s interesting how quickly it can progress,” he said. “I remember thinking that the yard was starting to brown out in a time when was it supposed to look lush. I thought I’d watch it and see what would happen. Two or three days later, I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something quick because I’m going to lose my whole yard.’”
Hollimon used a spreader to apply poison recommended by landscapers.
“I put out about two and a half times the recommended dose in one application and the following Saturday put out two and a half times the recommended dose,” he said. “I know I haven’t gotten rid of the problem yet.”
Hollimon also sprayed the flower beds at his home for armyworms. He said his grass is improving but armyworm moths are visible when he kicks the grass.
Hollimon plugged in a bug lamp outdoors to check on the activity of the armyworms.
“Lo and behold, every morning there is a pile of armyworms under it that have been done in,” he said. “I mean three or four dozen every morning. I know the problem persists. At this point I feel I have put enough poison out and I am waiting them out.”
Hollimon said he doesn’t remember a year where armyworms have persisted like this year.
“It’s been a month since I first noticed the damage they started to cause,” he said. “We’re going on five weeks and there’s no sign of letting up.”
Meredith Johnson of Madison said armyworms hit her backyard, but her husband sprayed the lawn and that helped. “It’s come back green,” she said.
Tena Pierce is happy that her yard is green again because she and her husband take pride in how attractive it is.
“It’s greened up,” she said. “It looks like everybody’s yard is back to what it was.”