As if the dry conditions were not challenging enough, ranchers and homeowners in Steamboat Springs soon could face another nemesis. Fields in the area already are filled with small grasshoppers, and officials are worried that the populations will continue to grow as dry conditions persist.

Photo by John F. Russell

As if the dry conditions were not challenging enough, ranchers and homeowners in Steamboat Springs soon could face another nemesis. Fields in the area already are filled with small grasshoppers, and officials are worried that the populations will continue to grow as dry conditions persist.

Grasshoppers may be on the rise in Routt County

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Professor Alex Latchininsky, of the University of Wyoming, confirmed Monday that the early arrival of mild weather in Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming this year provided the potential to give juvenile grasshoppers a fast start.

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As if the dry conditions were not challenging enough, ranchers and homeowners in Steamboat Springs soon could face another nemesis. Fields in the area already are filled with small grasshoppers, and officials are worried that the populations will continue to grow as dry conditions persist.

— The unusually long winter of 2011 and the cold moisture that persisted into May of last year was supposed to have kept the lid on grasshopper populations in 2012. Now, there are early signs that ongoing drought has the insects poised to make a comeback.

Either that, or the hoppers are merely Deadheads.

Concert-goers who noticed dozens of tiny grasshoppers perching on their clothing and blankets during the Dark Star Orchestra show Saturday night at the base of Steamboat Ski Area were witnessing the hopper class of 2012 within a couple of days of hatching from their eggs, according to an international expert on the insects.

Professor Alex Latchininsky, of the University of Wyoming, confirmed Monday that the early arrival of mild weather in Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming this year provided the potential to give juvenile grasshoppers a fast start.

“This spring is very unusual,” Latchininsky said. “In Wyoming, we have even seen some migratory swarms moving.”

The 2012 Rangeland Grasshopper Hazard Map produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture placed Northwest Colorado in a relatively benign status based on adult grasshopper counts from 2011. The forecast was that most of the Yampa Valley would see modest grasshopper counts of fewer than three adults per square yard, or in some areas three to eight adult hoppers per square yard. But the unseasonably warm spring and dry months of May and June and helping the grasshoppers survive to adulthood, Latchininsky said Monday.

Former Routt County Extension Agent CJ Mucklow told the Steamboat Today in 2009 that any time grasshopper sampling shows 15 or more adult grasshoppers per square yard, it’s time to begin thinking about treatment with pesticides.

Steamboat’s most notable grasshopper seasons in the past 30 years took place in 2002 and 2003, when counts in some locations exceeded 100 grasshoppers per square yard.

Current grasshopper counts were not available Monday.

Typically, 90 percent of grasshopper larvae die in the first week of their lives, Latchininsky said. With mild conditions and temperatures in the 70s as early as April, a larger number of juveniles made it through the critical first two weeks of life. So even if fewer grasshoppers made it through to adulthood than normal in Routt County in 2011, it’s possible the survival rate of the juveniles that hatched from eggs this spring will be enough for the hoppers to become problematic.

Tri River Basin CSU Extension Agent Bob Hammon said the grasshopper population in the Grand Junction area is further along this year than it is in the upper Yampa Valley, and the insects there already are well into adulthood. He said that grasshoppers only add more stress to vegetation already challenged by drought. But he’s seeing that on Mesa County’s rangeland the drought has pushed the hoppers into moist areas in search of nutrition.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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