Armyworms Invade Africa
In addition to drought and war, a new scourge has hit West and Central Africa: the fall armyworm, a.k.a. Spodoptera frugiperda, a critter that likes to get about. This voracious caterpillar originates in South America, but has spread as far North as Canada and now made its way across the Atlantic, probably as eggs in imported produce. It is is called ‘armyworm’ because it invades crop fields as an army, razing everything to the ground in a single day and then moving on in the still of the night. The armyworm will eat pretty much anything that is green, even its own kind, but its preferred dish is maize, which is a major staple in Africa.
Farmers in the Americas have been dealing with this species for a long time and know what to do to minimize its impact, although at considrable cost. In Brazil alone, the annual cost of controlling this pest is about $600 million. But farmers in Africa are new to it and do not have the means to control it. Consequently, the damage is enormous. Many farmers are in severe danger of loosing their livelihood. There is no prognosis yet on the extent of its range, but in view of its propensity to travel far and wide, it does not look good.
Talking about caterpillars: a new species has been discovered which had been named Neopalpa donaldtrumpi in honor of our current president because of a certain similarity in their hairdo. This species seems to be rather benign so far.
But another species, the flannel moth caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis) and nicknamed the trump caterpillar (or just trumpapillar for short) for the same reason, is not as innocuous. When you touch its hair, it will brake off and inject a venom causing excruciating pain.
A close relative with the same propensities, the puss caterpillar, is considered the most venomous caterpillar in the US. It is found as far west as Dallas, TX, so there’s a good chance that some of them have crept into our neck of the woods. If you encounter one and get stung, use duct tape to remove the spines, put ice on the affected area and get medical attention when it gets in your eyes or if you develop breathing problems.
(Note: the distinction between the Peruvian Trumpapillar and the U.S. Puss caterpillar is not made in the broadcast.)
A handy photo guide to US stinging caterpillars is available free at the University of Maryland Extension Service.
Eat or Be Eaten
Talking about insects: locusts, meal worms and crickets are great sources of protein and therefore, excellent meat substitutes. Insects are eaten throughout the world, except in the West, where it is considered icky. But proteins extracted from insects are already being used in some baked goods and some European supermarkets carry insectburgers. Perhaps that is one way to combat infestations like Spodoptera frugiperda.
Local News: Green Games
If you plan to go to the Wildcats homecoming game against UCLA on February 25, be aware that in addition to the game, there will be another competition going on: the Pac-12 Zero Waste Challenge, aimed at reducing waste at college sports events. The normal diversion rate, the amount of waste diverted from the landfill, is typically 30-40% at a UA football game. In 2015, UA has won third prize for diverting almost double that! The university’s Green Tean will set up green stations with labeled containers for compostable materials, trash and recyclables. Dedicated students will go through the trash periodically to make sure that nothing was accidentally misfiled. The team will also mingle with the public to encourage participation in its diversion efforts. The project is funded by the University’s Green Fund, which also pays for substitution of non-recyclable items, such as plastic cups, with environmentally friendly alternatives.
You can find out more about the challenge from UA’s Office of Sustainability at sustainability.arizona.edu.