Stung by Curses

Despite all the spending to fix it, the U.S. is unable to squash an insect epidemic that is not only spreading disease but costing lives, crops and billions of dollars.
From the November 2002 Trumpet Print Edition

“Wildfires in Oregon, California, Colorado and Arizona. Flash floods in Texas, Idaho, New Mexico and Nebraska. Drought just about everywhere else! What could be next for the West this summer—biblical plagues of locusts? Well, yes” (USA Today, Aug. 5).

Quite a question and answer—from a leading national newspaper! Which goes to show that many are beginning to ask, Why all the curses on the United States of America? Among other curses, 2002 has been a year like no other in the collective memory of the U.S. for insect plagues, pests and blights.

Think. What has been the greatest cause of human death, apart from natural causes, in the history of mankind? Wars? No, the mosquito and the flea! The miniscule flea was primarily responsible for spreading the Black Death—the bubonic plague—during the three appearances of the pandemic in the Middle Ages, in which millions died. Every year, almost 3 million people die of mosquito-borne diseases—more than those who at present die because of wars!

Viewed in the light of biblical prophecy, the overall evolving picture is astounding, and true reason for concern! God told ancient Israel that if they would not obey His voice they would be cursed (request The United States and Britain in Prophecy for proof of who the modern nations of Israel are). “[I]f thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments … all these curses shall come upon thee … cursed shalt thou be in the field” (Deut. 28:15-16). One specific curse was, “All thy trees and fruit of thy land shall the locust consume” (v. 42).

The recent weather curses (as addressed in the previous issue of the Trumpet) have contributed to 2002 being a mega-year for insect plagues. But that only paints part of the picture.

Invasive species are entering from abroad. Free of the natural enemies they had in their country of origin, they increase to pestilence levels very quickly in the United States.

A July 2001 report to Congress compiled by the U.S. General Accounting Office stated that “a recent study by Cornell University scientists estimated the total annual economic losses and associated control costs [due to invasive species] to be about $137 billion a year—more than double the annual economic damage caused by all natural disasters in the United States.”

Let’s see how, so far this year, lowly insects have made serious inroads into America’s wealth, flirted with its health, and prodded at its already disturbed peace of mind.

Transporting Deadly Disease

This year, of all the sickness spread by insects, the West Nile virus distributed by mosquitoes has probably gained the most press.

West Nile is an exotic, potentially deadly threat, though only a small percentage of people die from it. “[W]hile it doesn’t pose a major risk to healthy individuals, people with weakened immune systems face such threats as encephalitis [swelling of the brain], even death” (USA Today, May 18). Symptoms are similar to those of flu, but can also include skin rashes and swollen lymph glands—even polio-like paralysis.

The West Nile virus was introduced to the New York City area in 2000 and moved south to North Carolina and northward to Canada. In May of this year, Chester Moore, supervisory research entomologist for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pointed out, “In 2001, we expected that it would continue to spread, but it spread much faster than we anticipated” (ibid.). He had no way of knowing that by the time of the writing of this article, mosquitoes would have taken the virus to all but five of the 48 continental states. It has since been discovered that babies can be infected by this virus via their mother’s milk and that recipients of donor organs and blood transfusions are especially vulnerable.

While children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems are at risk, in real terms West Nile fever is much more deadly for livestock and birds. An uncountable number of birds have died. The last thing you want when you are suffering from plagues of insects is depletion in the bird population—as it is the birds that help keep the number of insects down!

Recently an alarming discovery was made. Thanks to mosquitoes, malaria has reappeared in the U.S., with a number of cases having been reported in Virginia.

The lowly tick has also been responsible for spreading deadly diseases throughout the U.S. this year. Lyme disease, of which there are now some 15,000 to 20,000 cases in the U.S. per year, has been the most common tick-spread disease. But now there are others being widely reported. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is transmitted by the Rocky Mountain wood tick and the American dog tick, and without treatment can be damaging to the kidneys, lungs and liver—even fatal in 15 to 20 percent of cases.

Ehrlichiosis, a newly documented disease, and babesiosis, a malaria-like illness, are also threats throughout the U.S., according to an April 2000 article in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine.

Destroying Crops

“Hordes of grasshoppers spawned by another mild winter and chronic dryness have hit Nebraska, several other states and Canadian provinces. Some infestations are the worst since the Great Depression, costing millions of dollars in lost crops and insecticide bills” (USA Today, Aug. 5).

With a dramatic increase in the number of grasshoppers, there is often a parallel spurt in the number of blister beetles, otherwise know as potato bugs. They feed on grasshopper eggs and blister the throats and stomachs of animals feeding on alfalfa.

Then there are huge Mormon crickets, droves of which marched their way across Utah, Idaho and Nevada, encompassing houses on their way and seriously damaging crops. This black, wingless cousin of the grasshopper caused $25 million in crop damage in Utah alone. “‘They’re even eating the paint off some of the houses,’ said Nebraska farmer Robert Larsen, who raises alfalfa, corn, soybeans and cattle on 1,600 acres where thousand upon thousands of grasshoppers jump out of the way as he walks by in what looks like the parting of the sea” (Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., July 21).

Eastern lubbers, bigger still and even more terrifying, recently hit Florida. The Orlando Sentinel reported, “Alice Mckinstry Davis, curator of the Eustis Historical Museum and Preservation Society, first saw the 4-inch creatures chowing down on a flower-garden smorgasbord outside the museum in downtown Eustis …. ‘We didn’t know what to think,’ Davis said. ‘I’d never seen anything like them. They were devouring all our broadleaf plants.’ Davis ran for the bug spray. The king-sized grasshoppers just sneered. Alarmed, she called experts for help. ‘About all you can do is hit ‘em with a 2-by-4,’ said Pris Peterson, master gardener at the Lake County Agricultural Center” (Aug. 20). Their high level of toxicity makes them poisonous to birds, who won’t touch them.

Another insect, the sharpshooter, has become an increasingly serious problem for wine growers in the States in the last two years. It carries vine-killing bacteria, including the one that causes Pierce’s disease, which lays waste to grape vines. The insects feed by sucking juices from plants and thereby spreading bacteria from plant to plant.

This year, the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association reported that Pierce’s disease has cost Temecula $20 million in damages, having wiped out 30 percent of the vineyards in the valley. In just two years, California’s premium $12 billion wine industry has come under serious threat—held siege by a little insect.

Beetles

Beetles have had a dramatically adverse effect on various types of plant life, trees and forests throughout the U.S.—causing billions of dollars’ worth of damage and changing the face of huge sweeps of American landscape.

The Asian long-horned beetle, considered to have entered the U.S. via packing material or wood from China several years ago, has destroyed over 6,700 trees in New York and Chicago. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research service, “If this beetle and other wood-boring pests were to become fully established in the United States, they could damage industries that generate combined annual revenues of $138 billion.”

Then there is the Japanese beetle. Though kept under control in its native land, it entered the U.S. without its natural enemies. These metallic green and bronze creatures feed on over 300 different plant varieties—shrubs and roses, flowering fruit trees and deciduous trees such as sycamore, sassafras, linden, Norway maple, birch and elm. Moreover, according to the Federal Consumer Information Center, the beetle “is the most widespread turf-grass pest in the United States. Efforts to control the larval and adult stages are estimated to cost more than $460 million a year. Losses attributable to the larval stage alone have been estimated at $234 million per year—$78 million for control costs and an additional $156 million for replacement of damaged turf.”

Bark beetles are doubly dangerous, especially considering the wave of forest fires in the U.S. this past summer. Trees injured by forest fires become susceptible to infestation. Then, when they die, they act as potential kindling for the following forest fire. These diminutive pests damage more than 1,560 square miles of North American forests per year! “A Forest Service report last spring estimated that more than 32,800 square miles of Western forests—an area half the size of Florida—are at high risk of ‘significant’ tree kills in the next 15 years. That’s 6 percent of the West’s 565,000 square miles of woodlands” (USA Today, Aug. 5).

In a similar fashion, Montana’s fire-ravished summer of 2000 laid the groundwork for the greatest outbreak of the Douglas fir beetle in state history. The result? The infestation of at least 156 square miles of Douglas fir—the most common tree in Montana’s forests.

The spruce beetle has destroyed as many as 80 percent of the trees on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. The effects of its presence in that state in the 1990s was devastating—killing more than 4,500 square miles of forest. Outbreaks in southern Utah have been responsible for the elimination of more than 3 million trees. It appears that an infestation of the pest in the Colorado Rockies could be the most alarming of all:_”Experts fear that one third of Colorado’s mature spruce trees, which range across 4,700 square miles, could be dead within the decade” (USA Today, Aug. 4).

Riding on the wave of last year’s devastation, in which it destroyed about $275.3 million worth of trees, statistics show that the southern pine beetle is now doing its deadly thing right across Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia, while the infestation continues its grip on South Carolina.

In the Black Hills of South Dakota, entire swaths of forest have turned rusty red due to the work of the Mountain Pine Beetle.

“Visualize a pinhead-sized, yellow bug, with no legs or wings, with a mouth three times the size of its body” (Citizen’s Weekly, March 3). This is an apt description of the creature known as the beech scale. It sucks sap from trees, which leaves behind tiny holes. Then, “when one of three different wind-borne varieties of Nectria fungus … enters the holes, the … fungi kill the living tissue inside the bark, create cankers, girdle the trees and eventually kill them” (ibid.). During the last century, this combination of scale and fungus decimated 99 percent of native beech trees in large sections of Canada. Chestnut blight has practically eliminated the American chestnut.

Then there is Dutch elm disease, from the elm bark beetle, which has killed 46 million elms across North America. “It, too, is an insect and disease combo, the native elm bark beetle opening the door for the foreign fungus to move in” (ibid.).

Termites

There are many varieties of termites, most of which have the capacity to play havoc with people’s lives—especially in cities. They can doom buildings by riddling their wooden structures, which they consume and pulverize. They are not fussy about whether the structure is a national monument or an important part of a nation’s heritage. In fact, so bent are they on devouring wood they are capable of munching through concrete, bricks and mortar to get to it.

In recent years, they have plagued many major cities in the U.S., but most noticeably Houston, Washington, Charleston and New Orleans—a favorite home of termites with its near-tropical weather. One of the major problems, according to Jonathan Steele, a certified pest control operator for Terminix, is identification. “Any termite company can only inspect about 20 percent of the home” he says (www.BayArea.com, July 7). Authorities in New Orleans estimate the damage that termites cause in their town is around $300 million annually. Plus, 50 percent of the city’s oaks, some of which top 100 years in age, are infested. In New Orleans, every year authorities spend an average of about $100,000 per city block to combat pests, while Washington has been fighting termites in the U.S. Capitol building itself.

The Beginning of Sorrows

Consider also the following pests. Although during the year 2002 they haven’t wreaked as much havoc and caused quite so much fear and damage as the above examples, they are still substantial curses: ash sawfly, white pine weevil, boxelder bug, Cooley spruce gall aphid, hawthorn mealybug, honeylocust plant bug, oystershell scale, peach tree borer, pinon “pitch mass” borer, Zimmerman pine moth, aphid, gypsy moth, shade tree borer, Colorado potato beetle, Mexican bean beetle, bagworm and killer bee.

In Matthew 24:7-8, where Jesus Christ is telling His disciples what it will be like in the end time, He says: “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.”

Perhaps you notice little ill effect from that vast army of pests marching across the land, destroying its manifold blessings. But a little thought will reveal that the potential of these pestilences to threaten your comfort is great.

Insects will increasingly become a major cause of famine and a principal means of spreading disease. “Thou shalt carry much seed out into the field, and shalt gather but little in; for the locust shall consume it. Thou shalt plant vineyards, and dress them, but shalt neither drink of the wine, nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them” (Deut. 28:38-39).

America is clearly under a curse. And the insect plagues of 2002 are just a mild beginning of what is to come. Our loving God will step up the level of correction, until hard-hearted men turn to Him with childlike attitudes and repent.

God wants to help you to change and thus escape the soon-coming suffering. Although the march of events will very soon take on a much more dramatic turn for the worse, there is a way of escape. You don’t have to wait until it is too late. Act now!