LABORATORY, BUREAU OF ENTOMOLOGY,
U. S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
By C. S. Lecky and Minnie S. Murphy
June 3, 1936
Written as a Work Project Administration (WPA) Project
Visitors welcome between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Located two miles south of Tallulah, upon bank of Roundaway Bayou and directly on U.S. 65 (Tour 10).
Madison Coordinator’s Note: The photos below were not a part of the original article but were added to enhance the story. RPS March 2009
While the experiment station in which serious students of the family and home life of insects, notably the cotton planter's Public Enemy No. 1, the boll weevil, conduct their research into the habits, lives and methods of destroying insect pests is a businesslike place, operated on scientific basis and without frills, it has nevertheless a pioneer aspect.
“Bug Lab” Offices during 1927 Flood (5/15/1927)
It was at this station that the first plans to kill boll weevils by use of calcium arsenate and by dusting cotton fields with this poison from low flying airplanes were formed and the first experiments inaugurated along these lines.
Scientists as earnestly seeking death dealing substances as other scientists, in other lines of research, have sought to prevent diseases or learn their sources, here pursue their investigations.
Machines, designed by hopeful inventors to bring wholesale death to insect hordes and wholesale wealth to manufacturers are patiently tested out and reports made as to advantage or disadvantage.
And, on moonlight nights, fliers dart about high above the ground to catch in the equipment with which the planes are furnished, specimens of insect life at varied levels.
All this work and research has its center in trim, neatly kept grey buildings with carefully trimmed lawns and the national banner floating proudly on a tall staff, two miles south of Tallulah, not far from the site of Old Richmond, first parish seat and burned in Civil War Days by Federal soldiers.
Visitors, laymen or experts, are cordially received.
HISTORY: R. A. Cushman, who had carefully surveyed North Louisiana and had found Madison Parish and Tallulah ideally and representatively located, established at the latter place on or about July 1, 1909, the Tallulah Laboratory, Southern Field Crop Insect Investigations, Bureau of Entomology, United States Department of Agriculture, remaining in charge until succeeded in November of 1910 by G. D. Smith.
Early work at the laboratory consisted very largely of studying the life history, habits and enemies of the boll weevil, an insect pest from the tropics, native to Mexico, Cuba and Central America, which, after devastating and causing abandonment of much fine cotton land in Mexico had slipped across the Rio Grande near Matamoras, without benefit of passport or visa, and made itself very much at home in cotton fields of this country.
This immigration occurred in 1892 and, when the Tallulah laboratory was established in 1909, Louisiana and other southern cotton growers were suffering so severely from boll weevil inroads that special extermination measures were necessary.
At the Tallulah laboratory, it was decided that, in order to learn how best to exterminate the pest, its life and habits should be studied carefully, so a Lilliputian village, like a playhouse community, adorns the laboratory grounds.
In these little structures boll weevils are propagated and raised, their appetites, tastes and habits, and effects of various poisons and parasites on their development carefully studied.
The little houses are rent free and properly furnished, some with Spanish moss, others with cotton stalks, corn stalks, sawmill debris or bare earth.
Each cage contains 500 boll weevils. Study has disclosed that most survive in the corn stalk environment, with Spanish moss second best home and bare ground the poorest.
Madison Parish, bordering the Mississippi River, with good rainfall, moderate temperature and areas of heavy timber, draped with Spanish moss for hibernation, was selected as typical of the many thousands of acres of cotton land already, in 1909, infested in the United States.
By 1922 the pest had spread in this country to 614,113 square miles of cotton producing land, leaving only about 91,000 square miles uninfested.
In the interim, about 1916, experiments were begun with calcium arsenate, conducted within a radius of 14 miles from Tallulah, and the arsenic combination proved most deadly of any yet used.
Three years later the results had been shown so beneficial that manufacturers grew interested and produced 3,000,000 lbs. in 1919 for use against boll weevil. At the Tallulah laboratory the chemical compound was stabilized and its physical and chemical qualities developed, while other experiments were being made with apparatus for applying the poison to the cotton.
Such apparatus ranged from the "handgun", small and unsatisfactory through the slowness and labor necessitated, to the one or two mule machines, which, with numerous nozzles, spray several rows at a time. A motorised machine tried in the early period proved too complicated for any but skilled users.
Dusting by Hand
Dusting with Mules
However, in 1922 airplanes, having been successfully used in Ohio the previous year against catalpa tree pests, arrangements were made to experiment along that line at the Tallulah laboratory and two planes with their pilots and mechanics were detailed there by the army air service.
Early Test-dusting from Air
After crude start, dumping the poison over the sides from sacks, hoppers were developed and present day 'dusting' methods eventually evolved.
1925 Photo Showing Several Dusting Methods
Scott Field, Site of the Dusting-by-Air Activity (during 1927 Flood)
Later the laboratory turned its attention to the cotton flea hopper and insects, such as the cotton louse, cutworm, and others.
The Division of Cotton Insect Investigations was created in 1925, with B. R. Coad in charge and headquarters at Tallulah, the latter being moved to Washington in 1931 while the laboratory was maintained at Tallulah.
PRESENT MANAGEMENT: The Tallulah laboratory is operated by the Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine, with a superintendent in charge. Visitors are shown courteous attention, during the hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.