ST. JOE (AGFC) – Two days previously, the grass in a large planting for wildlife was lush, green and more than knee high. Two days later it was gone.
Biologist Stacey Clark with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission pointed out devastation left in large areas on the Richland Valley Sonny Varnell Conservation Area, a part of the agency's Gene Rush Wildlife Management Area near the Buffalo River in Newton and Searcy counties.
The assault by the army worms isn't an isolated case. It has happened on other wildlife management areas and on pastures, hay fields and even lawns in many areas of Arkansas.
Army worms are nothing new. Why they appeared now and in such numbers is debatable. Some blame the arrival of the worms on 2012's unusual weather in Arkansas – prolonged drought that was ended by Hurricane Isaac's remnants of heavy rain in some areas and strong winds.
In Richland Valley, the army worms were highly selective. They went for the good stuff, plantings intended for elk, deer and other wildlife. The worms ignored weeds and nuisance growths like horse nettles and cockleburs, Clark said.
"They got to the millet, orchard grass, clovers, Bermuda grass and wheat. They ate crab grass and Johnson grass. They ate everything right down to the ground. In the case of the winter wheat we had planted, they ate what was in the sun but left what was in the shade."
Fighting the worms with insecticides is an option although an expensive one. And the worms strike so quickly that rigging up and spraying with an insecticide may come too late. The worms can hit and leave virtually overnight, turning into small moths.
The worms eat the green part of vegetation – grass blades and leaves. They pass up stems and woody material.
Army worms have a life cycle of just 30 days or so from egg to worm to moth. They reproduce on or in the ground instead of in trees and shrubs like tent worms.
Clark said the loss of food for wildlife in Richland Valley is extensive, but probably not devastating. "The elk may move up into the woods and feed on acorns," he said.
For cattle raisers, the impact may be greater. With much of a pasture wiped out by army worms, a rancher may not have the options enjoyed by mobile and adaptable wildlife.
David Long, AGFC's private lands coordinator, said, "Landowners desiring specific insecticide recommendations, whether it's wildlife food plots or pasture forages, should contact their county extension agent for recommendations."