About the end of July, before the much needed daily thunderstorms starting rolling in from the Gulf, we had been extremely dry. What few showers there had been had been scattered, but somehow they all missed us.
I noticed one day when I was leaving the house, a few spots in our 45 acres of crabgrass that looked a little different from the rest of the dry pasture. None of it looked good, but these spots looked especially bad. Had it not been so dry, I would have thought that since these spots were right behind terraces, that the grass had been drowned out by too much rain. I knew this was not the case, but it sure looked like it. I hoped that perhaps since the crabgrass was just getting established behind the winter grazing, that some areas were just struggling more than others from the drought, but I feared something much worse was going on.
When I got home later the next day, I noticed that there were more and larger spots in the grass that looked this way. I also noticed a lot of cowbirds and crows in the pasture, even though all the cows had gone to the shade. Well, in a drought, that is never a good sign! I said something to Jack about it when I saw him and he said he had noticed it too and thought that we might have an infestation of Fall Army Worms.
Before dark, I hopped on the four wheeler to check for myself and sure enough, when I got to the suspicious spots, there they were. Most of the army worms I saw were already large caterpillars and they were doing what army worms do--marching across our pastures eating everything in their path.
Being that this was not our first experience with Army Worms, Jack went first thing the next morning and got the pesticide we needed to stop this invasion. We agreed that the first thing we needed to spray were the outside borders of that 45 acre field so that we could hopefully contain the worms before they could migrate into the much larger Bermuda and Bahia pastures.
I was gone when Jack finished spraying on Saturday, but I went back to check the success or failure of our efforts, there were dead army worms everywhere. Not only were they everywhere, they were of every size.
Not knowing too much about the life cycle of Fall Army Worms, I decided to do a little research when I got back to the office. The following is what I learned.
The adult Fall Army Worm is a brownish, grayish moth that has a wing span of about 1.5 inches. These moths fly to South America in the cold months and then come back, especially to the southeastern United States in the summer months of June-August. These moths do not do any damage to crops or pastures--in fact, they appear to be harmless! All they do when they get here is fly around and lay eggs. The adult moth will live about 2-5 weeks and will lay anywhere from 200-1,000 eggs at one time in what is called a dome (a white or gray cluster of eggs on the leaf of a plant or on top of the soil). The can lay 5,000 eggs or more in the first 4-5 days of their lives.
The eggs hatch out within 2-3 days from being laid and as soon as they hatch, the small caterpillars begin devouring their food source, whether it be row crops or pasture grasses. At first, since they are so small, their damage is hard to detect, but it is happening. There are six identifiable larva or caterpillar stages and in each stage their appearance and colors of body parts change. The larger they grow, the more damage they do.
The larger caterpillars are nocturnal so they like to move at night when it is cool, dark and damp--to invade and attack new feeding grounds. Cool, wet springs followed by warm 'droughty' weather is the most conducive to their survival and reproduction, which is exactly the conditions that we experienced this year.
Once the caterpillars reach their sixth and most mature stage (about 2-3 weeks after hatching), they go into the ground and form pupae; an immobile and non-feeding stage between the larva and the adult moth--sort of a cocoon stage. During this stage the larva undergoes a complete transformation from a caterpillar to the adult, seemingly harmless moth. The adult moth will emerge within 10-14 days and the cycle just repeats itself over and over, thousands of times, all in just one field.
Smaller Army Worms are easier to kill than the larger ones, so timing is critically important in eliminating the worms before their damage is severe and before they have the opportunity to mature, reproduce, and spread to bordering pastures and crops that will become their new feeding grounds.
Once a field has been attacked by Fall Army Worms, even though you sprayed to kill them, it is critically important to monitor or scout the field or pasture thoroughly every day for the rest of the growing season to insure that you not only killed the worms that were present, but that you also killed the ones that were still un-hatched eggs when you sprayed. Also, if you catch them in time, a second spraying may also kill the egg laying moths that will emerge from the pupae that were underground during the first spraying.
At the first sign of a reoccurring attack, you need to hit them again. This is why you must scout the previously infected acreage daily, before they can grow, mature, multiply and cause more damage.
As it turned out, I was asked to preach the next morning after Jack finished spraying. As I prayed about what to preach on, I thought about how similar Fall Army Worms are to sin in our lives.
I have learned from personal and professional experience, that sin or temptation to sin, often presents itself just like the mature moth. It's just there, flying around in the field of my heart, not doing any harm that I can see. I may not even notice that it is there. However; if it is not dealt with and is allowed to stay in the field of my heart, it soon takes root in my life and begins to reproduce. When I first yield to the temptation, the little sins, just like the thousands of tiny caterpillars that hatch out from one dome, they do not seem to produce any significant damage that I can see, so it is easy for me to either overlook the sin or decide not to acknowledge the significance of its presence. Overtime however, it grows and grows, doing more and more damage. One sin leads to the temptation of another, so now the reproduction cycle has begun. Before I know it, I am consumed by the depth and the strong grasp of the sin that has taken over my thoughts and my actions, and I find myself totally consumed and unable to deal with it in my own strength.
I have also noticed that just like the Fall Army Worm, temptations to sin often come right after a 'spiritual high' (a wet spring) when everything is going well spiritually and I think that I have it all together and am able to resist whatever comes my way. But when I get sick, tired or just so busy doing the Lord's work that I neglect spending personal time with God and in His Word (a lull or spiritual drought), this is the time that I am most vulnerable to an attack.
Just like the worms, my sin not dealt with, will not only consume my life, but will steal my joy and destroy the fruit of my witness. If it remains in my life, it will also soon spread and make its way into the lives of others around me, putting them at risk due to my own negligence and disobedience.
With the army worm pesticides do the trick. With my sin and yours, the only cure is confession, repentance and faith in the completed work of Christ, allowing His blood to cleanse us from all our sin and unrighteousness and allowing Him to be the Lord of our lives (our thoughts, actions, time and possessions).
Once our sins are forgiven and forsaken, we must allow the Word of God and the Holy Spirit to scout our hearts every day, searching for and showing us any signs of reinfestation. A good daily prayer is Psalm 51: 10-12: "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."