The grasshoppers that are covering the foothills and pastures from the Merced-Mariposa county line up toward the mountains live up to their name -- the devastating grasshopper, or melanoplus devastator.
The insects like rainy springs, and this year's wet weather was ideal for the winged pests. They are invading gardens and crops in Mariposa by the thousands.
Maxwell Norton, interim director of the University of California Cooperative Extension in Mariposa, said when the hills and rangelands where the grasshoppers hatch start drying out, the insects move into greener areas.
"They'll eat almost anything green," Norton said. "People all over the foothills have been complaining about the numbers of them this year."
Grasshoppers can defoliate almost everything in sight, Norton said. The hoppers are found in the foothills and rangelands because they like undisturbed land to lay their eggs.
"In cultivated agricultural land, their life cycle gets disturbed by irrigation and tilling and they can't build up their numbers," Norton said. "In town, people tend to spray for bugs, so they don't get a foothold there either."
The grasshoppers are so thick this year that Norton said he gave a talk to some master gardeners Monday afternoon on how to keep their gardens and plants safe from the insects. The population of grasshoppers varies from year to year, and severe outbreaks, like Mariposa County is seeing this year, come every eight to 10 years and can last two or three years. Adults can fly up to 15 or more miles a day to find food.
Norton said there are steps that gardeners can take to keep the grasshoppers under control.
"There's a bug killer called Sevin that kills them," Norton said. "There's another material called Semaspore. It contains a naturally occurring grasshopper control." Norton said after eating Semaspore, grasshoppers become sick, eat less and begin to die. The disease spreads to healthy grasshoppers through cannibalism. Norton said it's safe for people, pets and the environment.
Foothill gardeners may have to resort to building screened-in enclosures for their plants and gardens, Norton said. "The screens have to be metal -- the grasshoppers will chew through plastic."
Although grasshoppers are one of the most troublesome pests to manage, they do have some natural enemies, such as birds, blister beetles and robber flies. Chickens and guinea hens also like to eat the hoppers.
And the grasshoppers can be their own worst enemy, Norton said.
"They also eat each other," he said. "They're pretty dumb."