DECEMBER
1990

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

12-21-90

Just Looking For A Home

People in the cotton industry wish the boll weevil would look for a home somewhere away from the cotton belt.  The destructive, little pest causes enormous losses in the production of cotton fiber and cottonseed each year.

The boll weevil invaded Texas from it's original home in Mexico, and now is residing where ever cotton is grown in the United States except for California, New Mexico and Arizona. 

The boll weevil name is widely recognized in America.  It was popularized in “The Boll Weevil” song.  The first verse of the song says:

            “Oh the boll weevil is a little black bug,
            Come from Mexico, they say.
            Come all the way to Texas,
            Just looking for a place to stay.”

Technically, this insect is not a bug, weevils are beetles, sometimes called snout beetles, because they have mouthparts on the end of a snout.  Boll weevils use the snout to feed on the cotton bolls which causes the boll, the fruiting part of the plant, to fall and reduce the yield.

            The second verse of the song is:
            “The first time I seen the boll weevil,
            He was sitting on the square.
            The next time I seen the boll weevil,
            He had all his family there …”           

How true it is.  The square is the flower of the cotton plant and is a favorite feeding site for the weevil.  The boll weevil female lays eggs in the feeding punctures, up to 250 per female.  The young grubs then feed in the developing boll.

The rest of the song deals with the damage caused by the boll weevil and the economic straits of the affected farmers. 

            According to the song:
            “The merchant got half the cotton,
            The boll weevil got the rest.
            Didn't leave the farmer's wife
            But one old cotton dress,
            And it's full of holes, and it's full of holes.”

In spite of the damage caused by the boll weevil, the insect is a hero in Enterprise, Alabama.  So much so that in the center of town stands the “The Boll Weevil Monument.”  The monument was erected in recognition of the role that the boll weevil played in causing crop diversification in the area.  Peanut production was introduced, and the economic climate of the area became more stable.

Even major pest insects, like the boll weevil, sometimes provide opportunities for folks other than entomologists.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox