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Pesky worms munching their way across area lawns

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SWANSEA, IL (KTVI) - A warning for homeowners: an outdoor pest is devouring lawns across St. Louis. It’s called the fall armyworm, and hasn’t been a widespread problem in St. Louis in more than 15 years.

On this beautiful September day, lawns throughout Mary Ann Richards’ Swansea subdivision look perfectly green.  Her lawn was among them until late last week. Within 48 hours, it suddenly turned brown.  “We were wondering what could have happened, we thought maybe it was the heat,” she says.

But the culprits are fall armyworms, according to Mark Black, owner of Country Club Lawn and Tree Specialists.  Gesturing to the grass, Black explains, “They will eat these leaf blades on the plants all the way down, to where you physically only have this stalk.  The volume of them that are in the lawns right now, you can almost see the lawns physically moving.”

These pests are popping up all over the bi-state region.  Armyworms are a problem this year, because their natural predators were killed off during the abnormally harsh winter.  “We have not seen it to this severity, even back to 1998, when they had the last outbreak of fall armyworms,” says Black.

Tell-tale signs are lawns turning brown, the smell of urine, and of course, the black bugs, themselves.  To solve the problem, homeowners can have their lawn treated with a basic insecticide, or homeowners can treat it themselves, with something like liquid Sevin or Talstar, available at home improvement stores or online.

Once the grass is eaten by these worms, all is not lost.  The grass isn’t dead; it’s just badly damaged.  And with some aeration and seeding, Black says affected lawns should fully recover.  That’s good news for those trying to battle these armyworms, whose invasion of St. Louis lawns may just be beginning. “Their life expectancy is 14 to 28 days, and we are currently 8 to 10 days into that,” Black says.

“It’s disappointing, because you invest a lot of time and money into your yard, but this is part of nature’s wrath,” adds Richards.

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