Friday, June 25, 2010

Cricket contagion

Remember when North American honeybees began to die off in 2006? Although a number of factors contribute to what has been called Colony Collapse Disorder, its exact mechanism remains a mystery. Well, something similar is happening to crickets. Although the cause - a cricket paralysis virus (3rd image) - is known, it is hard to eradicate and highly contagious within the house cricket species (Acheta domesticus, far right in the 1st image). Because this is the only species grown commercially in the U.S., the spread is causing a cricket shortage and necessitating caution among cricket farms that have not been hit. Among those that have, the effect is devastating. Consider the Lucky Lure Cricket Farm in Leesburg, Florida, less than 15 miles from where I live. The 9 million crickets they had on hand to sell to reptile owners, bait shops, zoos, and theme parks suddenly went silent in February. Owner Beth Payne (2nd image, with foreman John Legan) explains, "At first, we thought it was just a bad hatch." She consulted with a professor of entomology at the University of Florida to find that it was the aggressive virus, and tried to decontaminate and restart her operation 4 times before giving up in May and declaring bankruptcy, putting her 8 employees out of work. Lucky Lure had been in business since the 1950s, and the sound of the hordes of crickets was compared to a heavy rain or a stampede of horses. When I was in graduate school, we were trained to ask questions after presentations so that the speaker did not "hear crickets" in the audience. But that is exactly what these cricket farmers would like...

1 comment:

  1. Wow come to think about it I havn't seen a shiney black cricket in a while. Although I have these creepy alien ones that get in my house often like little ninjas. They look like a cross between a cricket and a spider no joke. They freak me out and boy are they smart! They know when your coming to get them.


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