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Goodbye, young lubbers: Critters cause garden nightmare

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 02:35 AM

You know you've got a big, bad bug when a good and gentle soul like "Nana Kay" Nelli of Riverview strips off the gloves.

Back in mid-April, when we first started seeing the Eastern lubber class of 2010, Kay commented on The Dirt online:

"Penny, you are one tough gardener to squish bare-handed." She had a hard time just stepping on a lubber, she told me later. "I do the 'EWW!' dance."

This month we met a new, take-no-prisoners Nana.

"The baby lubbers have eaten a lot of the leaves," she posted. "I've been squishing ... without the gloves."

Ah, lubbers. I've held off writing about the giant grasshoppers because you who remain lubberless (my Dirt blog companion, Kim Franke-Folstad) complain that we the afflicted (me) go on and on until you want to scream. That's a little like telling a drowning person to quit whining about the water, but I understand. If you've never snipped a lubber in half only to find its head happily munching your thyrallis the next day, you can't fully appreciate our nightmare.

There's just one person I'd expect to have a fondness for lubbers, and that's our leading state expert, entomologist John Capinera of the University of Florida.

But even he had to think long and hard when pressed to name one redeeming virtue for this pest. Loooong pause.

"Uh, that's a challenge," he finally said. "I can usually tell you why we need insects. ... Hmmm. Yeah. This one is a challenge."

They're not food for anything but the loggerhead shrike, a small bird that impales its prey on thorns or barbed wire and leaves the carcass there for future snacking. Little shrike, you are my hero!

"Don't count on them to bail you out," warned Dr. John. "There aren't that many compared to the numbers of lubbers."

Lubbers have a voracious appetite. Their favorite flavor is amaryllis, but they're not picky. They'll pretty much eat your whole garden.

Kill them while they're young, Dr. John advised. It's one stamp of a flip-flop now versus four full-body blows with a shovel after they've morphed into armored, 4-inch-long adults.

At this stage, you can easily pick them off a plant, toss them on the ground and stomp. When they're adults, they'll dodge, hiss and squirt. Eww.

We don't have long. They've become teenagers. I know because I've been finding their outgrown exoskeletons left wherever they step out of them on my shrubs.

A direct blast of Sevin, a pesticide, will kill them at this stage, Dr. John said, but you have to give them a good bath with a steady hand. If the Sevin gets all over your plants, it'll kill the good bugs, too.

Better just to stamp 'em.

When they become adults, they'll start laying eggs. And no, you can't kill the eggs. They're hidden away deep in the dirt.

Dr. John did, finally, come up with a redeeming quality for the lubber. They eat catbrier vine, a thorny and obnoxious weed.

Sorry, that's just not good enough.

So I'm launching a campaign. Please join me in urging fellow gardeners to Stamp Out Lubbers!

Never mind the acronym.


Less lubbers, more flowers; join us for garden chatting at tbo.ly/dirtblog.

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