It begins with one, then two, then ten, then a hundred, and before you know it you come to appreciate that many thousands of caterpillars fill an area of grass half the size of a football field. They’re everywhere!
So off to the Texas crop reports and the news and the local nature blogs. Yup, just what I thought. Fall armyworms, the larvae of the fall armyworm moth (Spodoptera frugiperda), have invaded Texas. OK, your mileage may vary since the state has four common armyworm species, but it seems a safe bet that the fall armyworm is the culprit given the time of year and the amount of damage.
And “invaded Texas” is perhaps deceptive. We have at least one regional outbreak of armyworms every year. This year they seemed to prefer most of the state, munching a wide swath of territory with only the far south and the far north left without occupying armyworm forces.
The entertainment comes from the horror of DFW residents who don’t know how to respond to hordes of insects marching through their lawns and eating all the grass in sight. Even news reports have shown once lush yards where St. Augustine now looks more massacred than manicured. Oh the horror! No, really, that’s what it sounds like. Who knew scalped grass could be so traumatic? Personally, I rather like the brown earthy tones that come out after the armyworms move on.
Armyworms get their name from the same behavior that gives army ants their name: foraging in huge numbers and moving en masse. Battalions of armyworms show up in your pretty yard, eat the grass down to dirt level, then they pack up and move in one large group—heading to your neighbor’s yard.