Jiminy! Cricket farms in US face crisis

Virus that wiped out cricket farms in Europe has American cricket-keepers worried. Zoos, theme parks, and reptile owners rely on the industry.

By , Correspondent

  • close
    House crickets at the San Diego Zoo are supplied by commercial vendors.
    View Caption

As a boy, Jack Armstrong watched his grandfather turn a love of fishing into America's first commercial cricket farm, growing and selling the insects as live bait.

Six decades later, the family owns two of the largest cricket farms in the country, in Georgia and Louisiana, shipping up to 17 million of the jumping critters each week to zoos, theme parks, and reptile owners.

At first glance, everything is chirping. But a virus has virtually wiped out the cricket-growing industry in Europe, and it's hopped the Atlantic, industry leaders say. Already, house crickets – the only species allowed for commercial sale in the United States – are in short supply, leaving buyers struggling to find enough.

Recommended: 6 reader views on Common Ground, Common Good

"We've faced challenges over the years, but nothing like this," says Mr. Armstrong, manager of Armstrong's Cricket Farm in West Monroe, La. "This is the biggest crisis the industry has ever faced, and if we don't get a handle on it, many more growers are going to fall."

In June, Lucky Lure Cricket Farm, among the oldest and largest suppliers in Florida, was forced to close its doors. Owner Beth Payne believes that densovirus, as the malady is known, arrived in a shipment of infected worms from a farm in California.

Ms. Payne says she spent thousands of dollars cleaning and sterilizing the farm in an attempt to keep her business afloat. But when millions of crickets continued to die soon after hatching, leaving her unable to fulfill orders, and when debts approached $500,000, she had no alternative to declaring bankruptcy, she says.

The Leesburg farm, established in the 1950s as a small-time bait supplier, had grown so large that by this year it was a major provider of crickets as reptile food to theme parks, including Disney's Animal Kingdom, SeaWorld, and Busch Gardens.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, the Top Hat Cricket Farm laid off 30 employees this summer for what owner Dave Eldred hopes will be a temporary shutdown. "We have already cleaned our facility top to bottom and sanitized every surface in several ways," he says.

The virus is harmless to humans, industry experts say, and affects only one species, the common house cricket (which isn't the kind chirping outside bedroom windows). Still, it is crucial to prevent the virus from gaining a foothold here.

"Even after 10 years, it remains impossible to commercially raise house crickets in Europe," says Jon Coote, chairman of the British Herpetological Society, who has studied the disease on both sides of the Atlantic.

"In Europe, we raise at least another three separate cricket species commercially for reptile food," he says. "The US cricket industry ... [needs] to convince the US authorities to allow them to commercially raise an alternative species."

Earlier this year, Mr. Coote got together with many leading growers in the US, including the Armstrong family, to plot strategy.

"They agreed to not import any more live insects from Europe and also to donate funds to research this virus," Coote says. Unfortunately, he says, the group – including himself – forgot to put Canadian cricket growers on the banned list. "It is from Canada that I suspect the virus has spread to the US," Coote says.

Armstrong, having watched the devastation in Europe, says he feels fortunate that his family's operation has so far not been affected. He says his managers acted to stave off the virus even before reports of its arrival in the US.

"The first thing we did was go into full lockdown," he says. "That means we're not taking mail in from other farms.... The main thing is you have to get clean."

However, Armstrong's Cricket Farm cannot keep up with the demand, Armstrong says.

After Lucky Lure went under, one buyer forced to look elsewhere was the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford. It had a standing order of up to 13,000 insects a week to provide protein for its salamanders, geckos, frogs, toads, and tarantulas.

"We have a big collection, so we have a lot of need. But it's kind of like a mad dash to get crickets," says Jennifer Stabile, the zoo's keeper of amphibians.

"We get whatever we can from other suppliers, and when no crickets are available, we have to go to other forms of feeding," she says. "We don't know when it will end. It's a waiting game."

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.




eZ debug

Clear cache:

Quick settings:

Timing: Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
Script start
Timing: Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
Module start 'content'
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 158
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 175
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 158
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 175
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Timing: Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
Module end 'content'
Timing: Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
Before parse_includes
Strict: PHP: E_STRICT Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
Non-static method MugoViewExtras::get_view_extras() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/mugo_view_extras/autoloads/template_operators.php on line 37
Warning: eZTemplate:def @ extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/extra/archive.tpl:21[1] Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
Variable 'view_extra_node' is already defined.
Timing: Jul 09 2014 07:09:15
After parse_includes
Timing: Jul 09 2014 07:09:15

Timing points:

CheckpointElapsedRel. ElapsedMemoryRel. Memory
Script start 0.0000 sec0.0141 sec 1,285.8203 KB1,162.0781 KB
Module start 'content' 0.0141 sec1.7405 sec 2,447.8984 KB12,422.2188 KB
Module end 'content' 1.7547 sec0.0357 sec 14,870.1172 KB397.2109 KB
Before parse_includes 1.7903 sec0.0598 sec 15,267.3281 KB273.8516 KB
After parse_includes 1.8501 sec0.0010 sec 15,541.1797 KB-182.9297 KB
End 1.8512 sec  15,358.2500 KB 
Total runtime:1.8594 sec
Peak memory usage:21,115.1641 KB

Time accumulators:

 Accumulator Elapsed Percent Count Average
Load cache0.0080 sec0.4308%370.0002 sec
Mysql Total
Mysqli_queries0.2010 sec10.7987%2260.0009 sec
Looping result0.0567 sec3.0486%2150.0003 sec
Template Total1.7907 sec 96.2% 8 0.2238 sec
Template load0.0083 sec0.4455%80.0010 sec
Template processing1.7823 sec95.7496%80.2228 sec
Template load and register function0.0007 sec0.0367%40.0002 sec
state_id_array0.0112 sec0.6010%180.0006 sec
state_identifier_array0.0134 sec0.7173%240.0006 sec
Cache load0.0081 sec0.4333%1000.0001 sec
eZ Find
Search0.0864 sec4.6425%10.0864 sec
Query build0.0793 sec4.2621%10.0793 sec
Class attribute list0.0736 sec3.9556%10.0736 sec
Engine time0.0058 sec0.3123%10.0058 sec
MoreLikeThis0.0000 sec0.0000%00.0000 sec
Sytem overhead
Fetch class attribute can translate value0.0027 sec0.1432%50.0005 sec
Fetch class attribute name0.0003 sec0.0141%120.0000 sec
Image XML parsing0.0063 sec0.3369%50.0013 sec
Instantiating content class attribute0.0001 sec0.0071%150.0000 sec
String conversion0.0000 sec0.0011%30.0000 sec
dbfile0.0021 sec0.1125%680.0000 sec
View Extra building0.0127 sec0.6813%40.0032 sec
Total script time:1.8615 sec

CSS/JS files loaded with "ezjscPacker" during request:


Templates used to render the page:

UsageRequested templateTemplateTemplate loadedEditOverride
1node/view/full.tplfull/article.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/full/article.tplEdit templateOverride template
24content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/paragraph.tpl<No override>extension/ezwebin/design/ezwebin/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/paragraph.tplEdit templateOverride template
3content/datatype/view/ezimage.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezimage.tplEdit templateOverride template
2content/datatype/view/ezstring.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezstring.tplEdit templateOverride template
22content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/link.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/link.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezbyline.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezbyline.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezobjectrelationlist.tplcontent/datatype/view/story_images.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/story_images.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/eztext.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/eztext.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezstring.tplcontent/datatype/view/image_credit.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/image_credit.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tplcontent/datatype/view/story_info_box.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/story_info_box.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezmatrix.tplcontent/datatype/view/ezmatrix_article_related_external_links.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/ezmatrix_article_related_external_links.tplEdit templateOverride template
1pagelayout.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/pagelayout.tplEdit templateOverride template
1modules/mugo_view_extras/extra_cached.tpl<No override>extension/mugo_view_extras/design/standard/templates/modules/mugo_view_extras/extra_cached.tplEdit templateOverride template
1setup/debug_toolbar.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/setup/debug_toolbar.tplEdit templateOverride template
 Number of times templates used: 62
 Number of unique templates used: 15
 Time used to render template usage: 0.0005 secs