A mole cricket on a neighborhood lawn

By Tom Nordlie, photos by Lyle Buss and Tyler L. Jones

Mole crickets are adapted to living underground.

They have cylinder-shaped bodies and powerful forelegs for digging, much like the moles that inspired their name. Mole crickets eat small plants and grass.

Around 1900, three closely related mole cricket species were accidentally brought to Florida from South America. They probably arrived on cargo ships.

Once in Florida, these mole crickets multiplied. Over the years, they damaged lawns, golf courses, pastures and other grassy areas.

For decades, Florida’s pest mole crickets were controlled with an insecticide called chlordane. The U.S. government banned chlordane and related insecticides in the late 1970s due to environmental concerns.

People living in Florida needed help – mole cricket damage and control costs were totaling about $30 million annually.

Then, the Florida Legislature directed UF/IFAS scientists to investigate new ways to control mole crickets.

The scientists found three natural enemies from South America -- a wasp, a fly and a microscopic round worm called a nematode.

All three natural enemies kill the South American mole crickets found in Florida. Years of testing showed that all three were safe to release, and could survive and reproduce in Florida.

Once the U.S. government gave approval, scientists released the natural enemies from the early 1980s through 2012.

All three natural enemies are established in Florida today, keeping mole cricket populations at manageable levels.

The total cost of the mole cricket biological control program was about $9 million when it ended, and it saves about $14 million every year with no new costs because the natural enemies continue to survive and reproduce!

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