Let’s go ahead and make it official. The fleahopper deserves some respect in today’s often unfair pecking order of cotton insect pests. Why? Because if a farmer produces cotton outside Texas, Arkansas or Oklahoma, he probably doesn’t know enough about this cotton insect pest to appreciate it.
On the flip side of that statement is the fact that the fleahopper is alive and well in Texas and to a lesser extent in Arkan-sas and Oklahoma. The situation isn’t likely to change anytime soon either.
This tiny insect can lull a cotton farmer to sleep and appear to be non-existent. Then, without a warning, it can wreak havoc on cotton during the first three weeks of squaring.
This pest is easy to kill, and it requires little management during years when its numbers are low. But that still doesn’t eliminate it as a serious insect pest to cotton.
The statistics reflect the unpredictable nature and behavior of the fleahopper. For example, in 2009, it only reduced yields across Texas by 4,000 bales. But, in 2007, the state’s producers lost 108,000 bales to the same pest.
“It is one of those pests that producers know can cost them a lot,” says Texas AgriLife Extension entomologist Chris Sansone of San Angelo. “They want to manage it, but there are definitely years when it doesn’t need any management.”
Compounding a producer’s strategy is the fact that the fleahopper behaves differently across Texas. This situation is due, in part, to the varying environments in each of the state’s production regions.
Sansone also points to recent research conducted on the fleahopper that shows it is a more serious pest in the eastern part of Texas as opposed to the western region.
“The fleahoppers in the eastern part of the state are better at going into cotton,” he says. “In West Texas, they don’t seem to like cotton as much. This year the potential for outbreaks, however, increased in the western part of the state because above normal winter rains increased wild host plants for the fleahopper.”
Sansone also says that some genetic traits in the fleahopper can cause behavioral differences. The fleahoppers in West Texas move into the cotton field, feed, cause some damage and then move out of the cotton. Conversely, in East Texas, they move into the cotton fields and stay there.
Recent genetic research on the fleahopper is a collaborative project funded by the Texas State Support committee and includes Dr. Raul Medina and Dr. Megha Parajulee with AgriLife Re-search as well as Dr. Charles Suh of USDA-ARS. Apurba Barman is the graduate student conducting the studies.
The threshold numbers for fleahoppers also vary across the state. In East Texas, the numbers average 10 to 15 fleahoppers per 100 plants. In West Texas, it’s higher at 20 to 25 per 100 plants.
Fleahoppers Love Texas
Another unusual feature of this insect is how it confines its serious damage to Texas. Oklahoma and Arkansas can have occasional fleahopper damage, but outbreaks hinge on how many wild hosts exist in any given year.
Fleahopper numbers in California never reach high levels, according to Sansone. And he says Louisiana does not really have to pay attention to the pest. Other parts of the Mid-South and Southeast never report serious damage from fleahoppers.
Sansone says producers in his state have had good success with early season applications of Orthene, acephate, Intruder and Centric.
“When you have a lot of spring and winter rains, you’ll have a lot of wild hosts for this pest,” Sansone says. “Farmers need to be very timely with insecticide applications.”
Still A Major Pest
How To Control Fleahoppers
Echoing these comments is veteran Texas AgriLife Extension entomologist Roy Parker in Corpus Christi. He agrees with Sansone that the fleahopper is the major cotton insect pest in Texas now that the boll weevil has been nearly eradicated.
But he says the fleahopper was a major pest even before the boll weevil was eradicated.
“I can promise you that this pest did not come along just because we stopped spraying for the boll weevil,” says Parker. “And even if it doesn’t get a lot of respect in other states, farmers in Texas certainly respect it.”
Parker and his fellow entomologists have done extensive research on fleahoppers. Some of their research indicates that if left untreated, cotton infested with fleahoppers can experience a 200-pound loss in yields.
Apparently, rainfall in the Coastal Bend is a key indicator of how serious the fleahopper problem can be. According to historical weather data, when traveling from Corpus Christi to Houston, the average rainfall level increases an inch for every 10 miles traveled.
Anytime there is extensive rain, it enhances the possibilities for wild hosts to spread in the region, according to Parker.
He says farmers in his region recognize that the fleahopper is a major pest. The problem is that some producers have opted to implement automatic sprayings every season without any scouting.
“When I heard that, it made me madder than an old wet hen,” says Parker. “That goes against all Integrated Pest Management practices. We know the threshold levels for this pest, and it’s about 15 fleahoppers per 100 plants. That is your key when treating for this pest.”
Fleahopper Damage In Texas
Producer Doug Wilde of San Angelo, Texas, has a reputation for being proactive in his management techniques. And that is exactly how he approaches controlling fleahoppers.
Wilde, who farms with his father John, applies Temik early and can get about four to six weeks of activity. He will then follow that up with a Roundup application and a Roundup-Orthene mix. If there is an additional need, he’ll go with a shot of Trimax.
“If you’re not watching for the fleahopper problem, you can lose a lot of early season squares,” says Wilde. “Those first bolls are your money bolls, and you don’t want to lose any of them.”
Wilde recommends that producers check their cotton at least once or twice a week to see if fleahoppers are becoming a problem.
“Like I said, this pest is small, and it can sneak up on you,” he says. “You have to scout for it early and often.”
Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.