A severe outbreak of fall armyworms is wreaking havoc in yards and fields across Mississippi.
Lowndes County Extension Agent Reid Nevins said the fall armyworm season is in “full peak” and calls to the extension office have spiked to 15-20 per day in the last week or two.
Fall armyworms, according to a Mississippi State University Extension publication, are a caterpillar species that are most common in late summer and early fall.
The caterpillars are the larval stage of the fall armyworm moths, which often migrate in large numbers and lay egg masses in turf and pasture grasses, according to the publication. The caterpillars are particularly fond of well-maintained Bermuda grass.
Nevins said armyworms normally show up about this time of year. However, he said, this year’s outbreak is significantly worse than usual.
“They come every year, but this year has been extra bad,” Nevins said. “This is a statewide problem. Just here, I’ve had them all over the county.”
Doug Yelverton, a cattle farmer in southwest Lowndes County said he’s had some armyworms in his Bermuda grass. He said the infestation hasn’t been as bad for him as some farmers who grow crops — especially farmers who grow Bermuda hay.
Still, he said the pests cause severe damage when they infest a yard or pasture.
“They eat it all,” he said. “They eat it down to the ground. They go for lush grass, growing and tended. That’s why they like these town yards where the grass has been mowed and is coming back in.
“The more tender the vegetation is, the more they like it,” Yelverton added.
Michelle Brown, a Columbus resident, said she’d never seen or heard of armyworms before a few days ago. Last week, she said a neighbor came to her house to drop something off. The neighbor, she said, sent a text message to tell her there were a bunch of a worms on her sidewalk.
“Just overnight, our grass was brown,” she said. “The whole front yard. I really think it happened overnight.”
According to the MSU Extension publication, armyworms eat very little when they are small but can eat large amounts of leaf area once they reach the final days of the larval stage. The publication states that is why turf often appears to be defoliated overnight.
Yelverton agreed that armyworms can move through a field very quickly.
“It’s just amazing what they can do,” Yelverton said. “They can move across a field — it’s amazing how quickly they can go across. All they leave is a few stems.”
Armyworms can be controlled through spray treatments, such as Ortho Bug-B-Gon Insect Killer; Bayer Power Force Multi-Insect Killer; Triazide Insect Killer Concentrate; Hi-Yield 38 Plus Turf, Termite and Ornamental Insect Concentrate; or Fertilome Borer, Bagworm, Tent Caterpillar and Leafminer Spray.
They can also be controlled with granule treatments, such as Ortho Bug-B-Gon Insect Killer Granules; Triazicide Insect Killer Granules; and Bayer 24-Hour Grub Killer Plus.
Nivens said armyworms are easy to kill but can be hard to completely control due to sheer numbers.
“It’s not a one-and-done thing,” he said. “You can see them this week, spray and kill them, and then you better keep spraying because they’re going to be consistent. This is one of the worst (outbreaks) I’ve ever seen.”
Brown said her family treated the yard after the armyworms went through it the first time, but a man spraying her yard for weeds on Thursday said he saw some and would spray the yard again.
“We live in a little neighborhood where there are only seven homes, so everybody has them,” she said. “The (yard care) guy said everybody had them, so they’ve just spread everywhere and ruined our grass.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.