The call doesn’t come in very often but it seems to happen around this time of year after we have heavy rains that some homes have waves of shrimp coming in under there front or garage door. This creature which is not an insect but a crustacean is so odd that the reaction of customers can be one of panic or amazement. Much like the movie Forrest Gump when he hit the mother load of shrimp after the big storm those ‘shrimp’ are already there just under our feet but the excess moisture gets them moving and that’s when we see them. Lots of them!
Terrestrial Amphipods (Lawn shrimp) are relatives of Hermit crabs and more traditional sea creatures we think of but have adapted to live on land and do just fine. There are about 90 species of Amphipods in the U.S. and Canada and none are harmful that I know of or even considered a pest. Also called ‘house hoppers’ or ‘big red fleas’ this creature needs semi aquatic conditions and eats organic or decaying animal matter. Sometimes confused with springtails, homeowners or pest control professionals alike will spray the yard for control but this often misses the mark. Amphipods also live on beaches, their hopping and resemblance to fleas leads people to believe a beach area is infested with the blood sucking insect but it is just the harmless Amphipod.
Generally only one brood is made per year and the eggs are laid in a pouch. The babies look like the adult and the complete life cycle is no more than one year but numbers can get into the thousands with extremely wet seasons. Lawn shrimp need water but too much will drive them out to seek better conditions. Lacking a waxy shell (exoskeleton) like an insect they don’t hold moisture and dry out quickly and for this reason many homeowners come home from work or wake up in the morning to maybe hundreds of dead shrimp at their front door.
Control measures are few but include good drainage for your mulched areas and keeping things like potted plants or lawn ornaments elevated. Wood piles and other such objects directly on the ground can also attract large numbers of the lawn shrimp because of the moisture it holds. For the most part these invasions are far and few between so a dust pan and broom is all that’s needed.
Well it’s that time of year and I’m sure we’ll get a few calls, usually for me this happens at the end of a long day or when I’m scheduled to have a rare day off and the oddity of this creature won’t allow the callers to accept just a phone confirmation of what it is. So I hop in the truck and head across town and much like Forrest I tell the story of the lawn shrimp to a completely enthralled customer. They don’t know whether to believe me or not because this story seems too fantastic to be true. Since excess rain triggers these events I get another call and explain to the people I have to run. It just might be my imagination but I think I hear them calling as I pull away from the drive, Run Bug Doctor, Run!