BOLL WEEVIL, a quarter-inch-long beetle that eats the buds and young bolls of cotton plants, resulting in damage that reduces the fiber output of the plants. Boll weevils produce several generations each year between spring and fall before hibernating over the winter. A native insect of Mexico and Central America, the boll weevil first crossed into south Texas about 1892. Over the next three decades, it advanced north and east through almost the entire Cotton Belt of the South, reaching the Atlantic coast by the 1920s. The damage was estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars annually.
The arrival of the boll weevil triggered an examination of cotton planting, harvesting, and field-clearing practices by farmers, scientists, and government officials in attempts to decrease areas where the pests could live. They also searched for and developed weevil-resistant cotton varieties that could be planted earlier and grow faster, which reduced the time plants were susceptible to boll weevils. Even though cotton agriculture changed radically as a result of the boll weevil invasion, the changes resulted only in controlling and limiting the damage caused by the boll weevil, but not in its extermination.
Since the 1970s the boll weevil has made new advances into parts of western Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. This pest continues to cause $300 million in damage annually, mostly in Texas and the mid-South. Its total impact has been estimated at over $15 billion during the twentieth century. The boll weevil is the target of ongoing eradication efforts in regional programs throughout the United States and northern Mexico. The National Boll Weevil Eradication Program, established in the late 1970s, has certified California, Arizona, and from Alabama eastward as now being weevil-free.
In 1919 residents of Enterprise, Alabama, erected a larger-than-life statue of the boll weevil as a monument "in profound appreciation" of being forced to diversify its economy from cotton into other crops because of the pest's arrival a few years earlier.
Hunter, W. D., and W. D. Pierce. The Mexican Cotton-Boll Wee vil. U.S. Department of Agriculture Bureau of Entomology Bulletin No. 114. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Entomology, 1912. A detailed history and scientific description.
Dickerson, Willard A., et al., eds. Boll Weevil Eradication in the United States through 1999. Memphis, Tenn.: Cotton Foundation, 2001. A comprehensive history of boll weevil eradication in the United States and each state.
boll weevil or cotton boll weevil (bōl), cotton-eating weevil, or snout beetle, Anthonomus grandis. Probably of Mexican or Central American origin, it appeared in Texas about 1892 and spread to most cotton-growing regions of the United States. Over the years the weevil became a significant pest, destroying about 8% of the annual U.S. cotton crop. Boll weevil devastation was a major reason for diversification of the South's historic cotton economy. In 1978, however, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture began a concerted eradication campaign. By the end of the century the weevil had disappeared from from most of the nation except Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, where the campaign continued.
The young adult is grayish, darkening with age, and about 1/4 in. (6 mm) long, with a long snout for boring into the cotton boll, or seed pod, where weevils feed on the cotton fibers. Weevils may also invade cotton flower buds before they mature into bolls. Females lay eggs within the bud or the boll, where pupation (see insect) occurs. The larvae eat the entire contents of the boll. Metamorphosis from egg to adult takes about three weeks; from 2 to 10 generations occur each season. The weevil's resistance to some poisons, and the removal of some poisons from the market, have encouraged Integrated Pest Management, e.g., the use of safer insecticides, synthetic growth regulators, and pheromone traps, and the release of sterile males to frustrate reproduction. Adults are also controlled by elimination of field litter, especially cotton stalks, in which they overwinter. Short-season cotton, bred to mature early, escapes much damage from weevil larvae.
The boll weevil is classified in the phylum Arthropoda, class Insecta, order Coleoptera, family Curculionidae.
See P. P. Sikorowski et al., Boll Weevil Mass Rearing Technology (1984); G. Matthews and J. Tunstall, Insect Pests of Cotton (1992).