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Production and Application of Steinernema scapterisci for Mole Cricket Control, Progress Report, August 2, 2000

Dr. Norm Leppla, University of Florida, IFAS

This project was initiated in June 1999 to re-establish commercial production of Steinernema scapterisci for mole cricket control in Florida. In about one year, we have:

  1. Formed partnerships in the research and technology community, and clientele groups.
  2. Together, secured a state legislative appropriation for research support.
  3. Prepared a supplemental budget request for FDACS to supply nematodes.
  4. Drafted a Tropical/Subtropical Agricultural Research proposal (unfunded).
  5. Submitted a UF, IFAS, Florida FIRST Initiative Project proposal (funded).
  6. Imported nematodes from Australia and conducted field tests in central Florida.
  7. Worked with the private sector and UF,OTL to re-establish commercial production.

The "insecticidal" nematode, Steinernema scapterisci, was imported into Florida from the Scapteriscus spp. mole cricket's original home in South America. It has been proven under operational conditions that mole crickets die within a few days after being infected with the nematode and that it persists for years in areas where it has been applied. This multiplies mole cricket control from inoculative releases and spreads the cost of treatment over time. Unfortunately, however, the nematode reproduces and spreads slowly on its own. The goal of this project is to accelerate establishment and spread of the nematode throughout Florida and thereby virtually eliminate, but not eradicate, the tawny mole cricket, Scapteriscus vicinus, and two closely related but much less damaging mole crickets as agricultural and urban pests, the short winged mole cricket, S. abbreviatus, and southern mole cricket, S. borelli.

Commercial Production of Steinernema scapterisci

The University of Florida holds a patent on the sale of Steinernema scapterisci for mole cricket control. Some preliminary market information was collected in cooperation with the University of Florida, Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) and they agreed to negotiate minimal advanced payments and royalties based on sales for the licensed use of this nematode. Two or three of the largest nematode producers in the world are interested in developing a S. scapterisci product. One company in the UK has a contract from OTL with a requested deadline for acceptance at the end of August. Methods for large-scale, efficient and reliable rearing of S. scapterisci have been developed and its efficacy was clearly demonstrated in Florida for a period of about three years. However, the nematode has not been available commercially since 1996 because the only U.S. company with a license to mass produce and sell it discontinued operations. An industry cooperator stated in 1995, "Our company sold less than 100 acres of the product during the fall of 1992, and now sells thousands of acres per year." Prior to the cessation of production, nematodes were applied commercially to pastures at a cost of about $100 per acre (800 million nematodes). This is a fraction of the long-term cost of using insecticides, an option that is too expensive for most cattlemen. Moreover, nematodes are safe to apply and proven to be effective.

  • Meeting to plan strategy for nematode production by a company in Florida (8/6/99), prepared general plan with timelines.
  • Meeting held with the Florida company (8/10/99), prepared follow-up report indicating that the company decided not to become a producer but will provide consultation.
  • Meeting held with UF, Office of Technology Licensing (10/20/99, 2 month delay), agreed that up front costs would be minimal for a license to sell S. scapterisci for mole cricket control.
  • Meeting held with a company in Georgia to rear S. scapterisci in vivo (11/17/99), confidentiality agreement completed and business plan submitted.
  • Meeting held with UF, OTL (1/20/00), agreed to assist in locating a company to produce S. scapterisci using in vitro methods.
  • Training session held with the Georgia company (1/25/00), provided instruction for producing the nematode in house crickets.
  • Meeting with Southern Regional Research Project, S-265, Development and Integration of Entomopathogens into Pest Management Systems (2/27/00), announcement of need for an in vitro commercial producer.
  • Meeting held with UF, OTL, and a foreign company to discuss an agreement to produce in vitro and market S. scapterisci in the U.S. (4/13/00), the company requested a 60-day non-compete agreement.
  • Foreign company and UF, OTL drafted an exclusive license agreement for production of S. scapterisci for sale in the U.S. (6/19/00).

DACS/UF Joint Project to Produce and Distribute the Nematode

A biological control agent, such as S. scapterisci for mole cricket control, is often produced and distributed by a government agency because the magnitude of its market and associated profitability may be limited. With funding from the state, the nematode could be produced by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry, thus re-establishing large-scale rearing technology, improving application methods, and providing a mole cricket control capability for eventual transfer to the private sector. State spending authority for fiscal year 2000 was received for about $250,000 (DPI) and $55,000 (UF) from an apparently empty trust fund. A Mole Cricket Task Force composed of administrators, researchers, extension personnel and the affected clientele groups has been assembled to access the trust fund and pursue this option. Scientific and technical support will be provided by the UF, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Applicators will be trained, certified and monitored by IFAS extension faculty members and the nematodes will be distributed at no cost but applicators will be paid for their services.

  • Meeting held with Richard Gaskalla, FDACS/DPI (1/13/00), determined that they would be receptive to rearing S. scapterisci if provided with the necessary funding and direction.
  • Prepared brochure and proposed project plan, and presented them with Ben Hill Griffin to the Commissioner of Agriculture, Bob Crawford (2/3/00), support and encouragement were given to proceed with developing a supplemental budget request for the year 2000 state legislature.
  • Meeting held with FDACS, DPI to plan production and prepare a budget, $281,000 year 1 (2/17/00), planned a realistic structure and budget for solid culture of S. scapterisci, and delivered it to Dr. Martha Roberts (FDACS) in the Commissioner's Office.
  • Report with background information on mole cricket infestations, damage and efficacy of control by S. scapterisci prepared for FDACS (2/25/00), report sent with justification for a federal appropriation.
  • Legislative materials and information prepared for Herb Harbin, Florida Cattlemen's Association (4/18/00), input provided for legislative committees.
  • UF, IFAS received a State appropriation of $55,000 to provide research support for mole cricket biological control (7/1/00), appropriation is in a trust fund.
  • Meeting held with FDACS, DPI and the Mole Cricket Task Force to determine the status of state funds requested to produce S. scapterisci and initiate a mole cricket control program (7/21/00), appropriation is in a trust fund and project is unable to proceed.

Florida First Initiative Proposal for Field Tests

Research has progressed in central Florida on 1-acre plots treated with Steinernema scapterisci at full, half and 1/4 the standard application rate. The standard rate is 800 million nematodes per acre. Pitfall traps on ranches in five south Florida counties have provided baseline data on the seasonal abundance of mole crickets. Additional traps were installed at the test sites and emptied weekly to determine the relative effectiveness of the treatments. Mole crickets were analyzed to determine the level of infection by Steinernematid nematodes. These tests will be repeated in September and the results will be reported by the end of the year.

  • Prepared and submitted Florida First Initiative Project Proposal to test reduced numbers of nematodes per acre, currently 800 million, at standard release rates, i.e. strip treatments at 100%, 50% and 25% of field (11/24/99), project reviewed and given high priority.
  • Grant Funded for $15,000 to Drs. Martin Adjei, Howard Frank, Norm Leppla and Grover Smart (1/3/00), proceeded with design of experiment and application equipment, and continued trapping mole crickets in the proposed nematode release areas.
  • Application to import and release nematodes received from FDACS/DPI (January 2000) and USDA/APHIS (2/15/00), enabled importation of the nematodes.
  • Nematodes ordered from sole source in Australia at about $400 per acre (2/15/00), prepared application equipment.
  • Nematodes received and checked for viability (4/21/00), applications made on pastures in Ona area.
  • Results of this research project are encouraging.

Tropical/Subtropical Agricultural Research Proposal

Research is needed to reestablish a large-scale, cost-effective rearing capability for S. scapterisci. Large-scale in vitro production techniques were developed and used routinely when this nematode was produced commercially in the United States but they are proprietary and currently no company has a license to sell S. scapterisci in this country. S. scapterisci is reared in Australia but at a cost that limits its use to research projects, $410 per acre at an application rate of 800 million per acre (200,000 per m2). Thus, a large-scale rearing capability must be redeveloped using published techniques in solid culture and liquid fermentation. Rearing S. scapterisci in vivo on host mole crickets or alternative hosts, such as house crickets, is currently of limited value due to the production costs and magnitude of the pest populations. There are about five million acres of potentially infested bahiagrass in Florida. S. scapterisci must be cycled through mole crickets at intervals to maintain its pathogenicity. It is also necessary to minimize the expense of using this nematode by determining the most efficient strategies for its maintenance and application in the field. The S. scapterisci product must be formulated and stored in ways that maintains its pathogenicity; and its survival, establishment and spread must be optimized. This nematode has been applied in ways that protects it from ultraviolet light and excessive heat, including surface distribution followed by irrigation, application in irrigation systems and subsurface injection with water. The nematodes can spread adequately, especially in pastures, if distributed in strips or specific locations with high concentrations of mole crickets.

  • Meeting held with potential T-STAR cooperators in Puerto Rico (7/30/99), obtained required cooperator.
  • Submitted T-STAR pre-proposal (10/30/99), encouraged to submit a full proposal.
  • Submitted full T-STAR proposal, $103,000 for 3 years (1/6/00), proposal received thorough review and consideration.
  • T-STAR proposal was not funded (4/25/00), lacked a source for large numbers of nematodes, resubmit next year after a source has been identified.
  • Plan to re-submit the T-STAR proposal in January 2001, emphasizing the research in Puerto Rico, opportunity to maintain Dr. Frank on site, goal of conducting a pilot project to control mole crickets over a limited geographical area, and application of the results in Florida.


Florida cattlemen are seeking a cost effective, permanent means of minimizing mole cricket damage to pastures. Approximately 75% of the 3.5 million acres of improved pastures that support the 1.2 million head, cow-calf industry in Florida consist of bahiagrass pastures. Since 1996, about 380,000 acres of bahiagrass pasture have been destroyed by mole cricket infestations, in addition to an annual hay revenue loss of $6 million to livestock producers. Consequently, cattle, landscape, turf and allied industries in Florida would benefit greatly by having S. scapterisci reestablished for mole cricket control.

  • Report delivered at Florida Cattlemen's Association meeting (12/2/99), encouraged to move from research to implementation of a control project.
  • Report delivered at Osceola County Extension, Florida Cattlemen's Association (1/19/00), decided to initiate a proposal for production and distribution of the nematode by FDACS/DPI.
  • Updates provided to deans and Mole Cricket Task Force (12/2/99 and continuing), encouragement and support provided, including the Florida First Initiative grant to initiate field-testing of nematodes from Australia.
  • Update provided to UF/OTL (2/25/00), communicated scope of the mole cricket project.
  • Met with potential nematode producers and provided technical information to the primary candidate (4/13/00, 6/19/00).

Mole Cricket Task Force

Martin Adjei (UF, IFAS), Larry Barthle (Fla. Cattlemen), Dave Dymond (Fla. Cattlemen), Howard Frank (UF, IFAS), Ben Hill Griffin III, Herb Harbin (Fla. Cattlemen), Don Harris (FDACS, DPI), Gretchen Jayne-Peterson, Edward Jennings (UF, IFAS), Lochrane Gary (UF, IFAS), Findlay Pate (UF, IFAS), Steve Pearson (Golf Course), Chip Ramsey (Fla. Cattlemen), Jim Selph, Grover Smart (UF, IFAS), Sid Sumner (Fla. Cattlemen), Bert Tucker, Charlie Williams (UF, IFAS), Bill Brown (UF, IFAS), Chairman and Norm Leppla (UF, IFAS), Co-Chairman (some not confirmed)

Information provided by:

Dr. Norm Leppla
Entomology and Nematology Department
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611-0620


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