Three species of mole crickets were first detected in the southeastern United States about 1900, and are now serious plant pest. Those species are the tawny mole cricket, southern mole cricket and shortwinged mole cricket.
Mole crickets live in the soil and feed on plant roots. Their front legs are short and stout well adapted for tunneling. Their velvety skin is light brown, and the adults, which reach a length of about one-and-a-half inches, have prominent wings folded over their back.
Each spring, mole crickets lay eggs in the soil. The nymphs, which hatch in about two weeks, look like the adults, except they’re smaller and lack fully developed wings. These nymphs mature very gradually, reaching adulthood the following spring. Thus, there is only one generation per year.
Although mole crickets live mostly below the ground, the adults are readily attracted to lights especially in the spring, and through the summer. At these times, they’re commonly found under street lamps, electric signs, and similar illumination.
Mole crickets are most active at night, especially after a rain or irrigation, when the temperature is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, under these conditions; they make burrows in the upper inch or two of the soil. Occasionally, they’ll partially emerge to gather bits of food. These surface burrows, which range from about one-eighth to three-quarter of an inch in diameter, look like miniature mole runs. This burrowing loosens the soil, causing plants to dry out. However, the most serious damage is caused by the crickets feeding on the roots of lawn grass.
Mole crickets can be controlled by either sprayer baits. Apply sprays or bait when the overnight temperature is expected to be 70 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and be sure the soil is moist. If necessary, sprinkle the area for about an hour before application. Moisture aids soil penetration of sprays, and with baits, it attracts the mole crickets to the surface to feed.
To insure even pesticide coverage, it’s best to treat no more than 500 square feet at a time. Mark off the area to be covered, and apply half the recommended amount evenly, back and forth in one direction. Then, turn at right angles and apply the rest. After spraying, irrigate for 40-60 minutes. Do not water after applying baits.
Baits are more effective when the fast-growing nymphs need a lot of food from late June through September. The sooner baits are applied after damage is noticed, the more effective they’ll be. Baits may be applied by hand, but be sure to wear rubber gloves. For sprays, a garden hose attachment applicator is recommended one that requires 15 to 20 gallons of water passing through the hose to empty a quart jar.
For more information on controlling mole crickets, contact the Gulf County Extension Service at 639-3200 or visit our website: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu or www.http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu and see publication ENY 234, ENY 300.