Grasshoppers threaten California crops, gardens

The grasshoppers that are covering the foothills and pastures from the Merced-Mariposa county line up toward the mountains live up to their name -- the devastating grasshopper, or melanoplus devastator.

The insects like rainy springs, and this year's wet weather was ideal for the winged pests. They are invading gardens and crops in Mariposa by the thousands.

Maxwell Norton, interim director of the University of California Cooperative Extension in Mariposa, said when the hills and rangelands where the grasshoppers hatch start drying out, the insects move into greener areas.

"They'll eat almost anything green," Norton said. "People all over the foothills have been complaining about the numbers of them this year."

Grasshoppers can defoliate almost everything in sight, Norton said. The hoppers are found in the foothills and rangelands because they like undisturbed land to lay their eggs.

"In cultivated agricultural land, their life cycle gets disturbed by irrigation and tilling and they can't build up their numbers," Norton said. "In town, people tend to spray for bugs, so they don't get a foothold there either."

The grasshoppers are so thick this year that Norton said he gave a talk to some master gardeners Monday afternoon on how to keep their gardens and plants safe from the insects.

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