Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cricket Crisis

Crickets are raised by the millions for feeding lizards, snakes, and other pets. In addition, these insects have played an important role in Chinese, Japanese, and Native American cultures as a symbol of good fortune, vitality, and prosperity.
In the United States, the pet store species is the house cricket, Acheta domesticus. It is not a native species, but it is not considered to be invasive, even though feral populations occur in the United States.
In recent years, cricket producers have been struggling to control a virus, Acheta domesticus densovirus AdDNV, that is spreading through their colonies. The virus is thought to have originated from Europe.

European cricket producers have switched to other species not susceptible to AdDNV. Now the American cricket industry is pressuring the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow them to import the field cricket Gryllus assimilis from Europe. Another non-native species, the field cricket has already been introduced and has become established in Texas and Florida. Two other alternatives are also under consideration: rearing field-collected G. assimilis from the United States or importing resistant A. domesticus from Europe.

The USDA is doing the right thing by conducting a risk assessment.*  It seems to me that the alternatives being considered are low risk to agriculture and the natural environment in Oregon—they are, however, not the best idea. Bringing in stock from overseas is almost certainly how the virus arrived in the United States in the first place. What the cricket industry should be doing is developing rearing techniques for a native species. What is wrong with good old American crickets?

This situation reminds me a lot of what has happened with honey bees and bumble bees. Commercial sales of these species have been little regulated because they are not considered “pests.” Oregon’s apiary regulations were repealed, except for hive registration, in 1993. Importation of commercially available non-native bumble bees is allowed by our neighbor states. It is easy to order live bees via the Internet and have them shipped almost anywhere in the world. 

The downside of this convenience is that we’re sharing our bee production problems. Movement of bees has spread bee diseases and mite pests across continents and around the world. For the most part, the beekeepers that benefit from the convenience are the same people that suffer the consequences. The same would be true for cricket producers. Should we care? 

Does it matter if cricket farmers shoot themselves in the foot by importing exotic crickets? It would matter if the diseases spread to native species. A couple of species of bumble bees that used to be common in the Northwest are now quite rare. Could it be that imported bumble bees brought a disease that spread to the wild? Some scientists think so, but there is no proof.

This summer, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) will be conducting the first ever statewide pollinator survey, thanks to a grant from USDA. We need baseline data on pollinator distribution and abundance. Without it, a species could disappear without anyone even noticing. We probably should be doing something similar with our native crickets—and perhaps other species that aren’t charismatic megafauna, but are vital to the health of our agriculture industry and natural resources.

Dan Hilburn

*Meissner H. & R. Ahern. 2011. Risk associated with importation and interstate movement of Gryllus assimilis and Acheta domesticus (Orthoptera:Gryllidae) for commercial purposes. USDA. Version 2.0. 5 pp.

1 comment:

  1. You wouldn't happen to have a link to the paper you referenced there at the very bottom, would you? I can't seem to find it anywhere online. Interesting stuff though!