NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana and Arkansas have stepped up boll weevil trapping because two of the destructive, long-snouted beetles were found in northern Mississippi.
“We run scared about getting them reintroduced into the state,” said Gus Lorenz, a University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service entomologist and one of the state’s three boll weevil experts. “We’re going to do everything we can to avoid that as much as possible.”
Boll weevil larvae eat cotton buds and flowers. They have cost the cotton industry more than $23 billion since moving into the United States from Mexico in the 1890s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since North Carolina and southern Virginia began trial programs about 40 years ago, the beetles have been eradicated from all cotton-producing states except part of southern Texas .
The bugs have snouts about half as long as their bodies and average about a quarter-inch long from snout-tip to back end.
Farrell Boyd, program director for Mississippi’s boll weevil eradication program, said the two male Mexican boll weevils found in Batesville probably hitched a ride on a vehicle, though nobody knows for sure how they arrived. Intensive trapping around the field where they were found in a trap on Sept. 29 and within a mile of that spot hasn’t turned up any more weevils, he said.
“Every day that goes by without us catching any more, I feel real comfortable,” he said.
Boll weevils were declared eradicated in Arkansas in 2006, Mississippi in 2009 and Louisiana in 2012.
“We spent hundreds of millions of dollars eradicating the weevil, and we’re just not willing to take a chance,” Lorenz said.
Traps are usually spaced about every mile along highways, and that distance has been halved, he said. They’ve also boosted trapping near the three bridges between Mississippi and Arkansas, and in Texarkana, the entry point from Texas.
In Louisiana, precautionary trap lines are kept up along Interstates 20 and 49. The distance has been reduced between traps along I-20 in northeast Louisiana because of the Mississippi find, state Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain said in a news release.
Boyd said that after the weevils were found in Mississippi, “The first thing we thought was, well, somebody hauled a fertilized female here and she went off into the field and laid some eggs, so she’ll lay some more.”
But since traps all around the field and along the highway didn’t turn up any more boll weevils, the only other possibilities were that the insects arrived on farm equipment or on some sort of vehicle.
“It would have to come from south Texas or Mexico, simply because everything is eradicated north of the Rio Grande Valley,” Boyd said.
The only cotton harvesting equipment brought from that area to Mississippi stopped at least 15 miles west of Batesville, where the weevils were caught, he said. In addition, it had followed standard procedure — it was pressure-washed in Texas and checked for boll weevils by the state agriculture department.
“So I don’t really think it had anything to do with equipment coming from down there. I think more likely it came on a vehicle in some form or fashion,” Boyd said.
There are three types of boll weevils. The Southeastern variety once infested U.S. cotton fields. Thurberia boll weevils are native to the mountains of southern Arizona and parts of northwestern Mexico and primarily infest a kind of wild cotton called thurberia. Mexican weevils are found in that country and can be just as destructive to commercial cotton as the Southeastern variety.
This is the first time the Mexican variety has been found in the Southeast or mid-South, Boyd said.