Grasshoppers Challenging California Ranchers

Melanoplus devastator grasshopper. ( UC ANR )

Ranchers in Plumas County, Calif., are dealing with an invasion of grasshoppers on summer ranges.

Officials say the clear-winged grasshopper, commonly known as the “devastator,” increased in population due to last year’s warm fall weather. Plumas County is located in the Sierra Nevada mountains between Chico, Calif., and Reno, Nev.

Butte County Farm Bureau Executive Director Colleen Cecil told the Chico Enterprise-Record that many ranchers in Butte County move their cattle to the higher elevations in Plumas County for grazing during the summer. She said the onslaught of grasshoppers is reducing the forage available for cattle.

Donald G. Miller, entomology professor at Chico State, said the grasshopper is called the “devastator” for good reason.

“This species has a history of outbreaks in Butte County and throughout California,” Miller said. “I’ve gotten calls before that there were large numbers of grasshoppers that just sprung up over night, eating everything they could find. I strongly suspect this is the species that’s causing problems for Butte County ranchers. These insects can eat over a third of their body weight. They will eat just about any type of vegetation, they don’t care. They will not pick and choose between certain crops, they will eat anything they can find.”

UC Cooperative Extension Livestock and Natural Resources adviser Tracy Schohr told the Enterprise-Record the grasshoppers can grow exponentially and have major population bursts if warm weather conditions permit.

“Right now they are continuing to move,” Schohr said. “There have been records of them moving more than 60 miles in one day, just to find more vegetation.”

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