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Army Worms Go Wild in Northeast

An invasion of army worms is turning lawns throughout the Northeast a sickly brown. Experts are baffled, and can only guess that the source of the infestation was the winds of Tropical Storm Allison.

?People are calling and saying that they went away on Friday and that when they came back on Monday the lawn was gone, except for the bits of clover,? says Karen Bernhard, assistant horticulturist and entomologist with the extension office in Lebanon County, PA. ?They haven't been this bad in the Northeast in over 25 years,? says John Buechner, director of technical services for Lawn Doctor. ?We're finding them from central Pennsylvania up through Boston.?

Earlier this spring, parts of the Midwest experienced one of the worst armyworm outbreaks entomologists had seen. The theory is that armyworm moths, which can lay 300 eggs at a time, were blown northeast by the tropical storm in June.

Two or three generations of armyworms can occur annually. The eggs hatch out into tiny, hard-to-detect larva that grow into 1 ? -inch-long brown or gray caterpillars with huge appetites for grass.

?It?s pretty safe to say that lawns from northern Delaware all the way up to Maine have been damaged,? says Brian Feldman, who manages TruGreen ChemLawn companies. ?It?s definitely an epidemic.?

JoAnn Dunn of West Long Branch, NJ, tells the following story: ?I was walking across the yard and could hear this snapping under my feet. It was the worms. From one side to the other, and you could actually see my lawn moving. You could see them crawling through the grass, hanging off the top of the blades. It was absolutely disgusting.?

Armyworms also can mean disaster for farms, consuming orchard grass, hay and corn. Dennis Calvin, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University, said in some cases the worms have eaten corn down to the ground.

Tom Durkis, the state entomologist in New Hampshire, said in 25 years he hasn't seen the pest as bad as it is this year. ?As quickly as they come, they could disappear,? he says. ?It's very hard to predict.?

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