The M&R Durango Insectary, which harnesses naturally occurring enemies to combat pests, is focused on a major
threat this summer - the grasshopper.
"This could be an extremely bad grasshopper year all over the West," Lee Anne Merrill said Tuesday at her production
center southeast of Durango. "The grasshopper is an eating machine that eats anything green - and other things such
as paint on a wall, hardware cloth or its own kind."
A United States Department of Agriculture survey last fall sounded a warning, Merrill said. Some sweep-net counts
found 24 adult grasshoppers per square yard, almost triple the density at which control measures are recommended, she
Because half a grasshopper population consists of females, which can lay several hundred eggs each, the potential for
a bumper crop of indiscriminate munchers is evident.
The M&R remedy is its trademark Nolo Bait, a proprietary mixture of a naturally occurring spore, the Nosema
locustae, and wheat bran flakes. The bait isn't dangerous to humans, pets, livestock or wildlife, she said.
Nolo Bait, which comes in the form of a coarse grit, targets only the grasshopper. Grasshoppers succumb when they eat
the bait, which can be spread by hand, machinery or by air.
It has been used across the United States and in Canada.
The microorganism Nosema locustae is one of four broad categories of natural enemies, as biological control agents
are known. The other categories are soil-inhabiting roundworms, host-specific parasites and predators such as
lacewings, a species of insect that eats a broad range of pests.
Merill and her husband, Gene, who have been in business 21 years, supply all types of natural enemies.
But the potential grasshopper plague is consuming much of their time now.
The Merrills begin production of Nosema locustae in the winter by raising grasshoppers in a controlled indoor
facility. They feed the insects organic romaine lettuce because pesticides and fungicides on nonorganic lettuce kill
The captives are infected with a tiny amount of Nosema locustae, which begins to consume the grasshopper, leaving
nothing but a shell filled with spores when the grasshopper dies.
The Nosema spores are extracted from the dead grasshoppers and are purified, ready to be added to the wheat bran
specially prepared by Cortez Milling Co.
The bait has 1 billion spores per pound of wheat bran, Merrill said.
In addition to killing invading grasshoppers that feed on it, the spores accumulate over time, providing ongoing
"The whole idea is to lay a foundation that breaks the life cycle of the grasshopper," Merrill said. "But there is no
It's a constant battle for backyard gardeners and commercial growers, Merrill said, because the nomadic grasshopper
can move in from neighboring farms or gardens
M&R sells to individuals, garden centers and large agricultural oprations, Merrill said. Annual sales average
about 50,000 pounds.
The cost of treatment per acre varies from $3 to $7, depending on how much bait is purchased.
Darrin Parmenter, the Colorado State College Extension horticulturist in Durango, said CSU entomologists think the
brunt of a grasshopper assault may miss all but the northeastern corner of Colorado. The main outbreak is predicted
to strike Nebraska and to the north and west of that state.
Lisa Peraino with the USDA in Colorado confirmed the outlook.
"We're just starting to see hatches and so far they're relatively low," Peraino said. "In Morgan and Washington
counties, the number of grasshoppers per square yard ranges from the teens to the high 30s but elsewhere they're in
the single digits."
In Durango, hatches, which are just starting, appear low, Peraino said.