History of the USDA Cotton Insects Research Laboratory Tallulah, Louisiana, 1909-1973




From the Bulletin of the Entomological Society of America, Volume 22, Number 4, December 1976, pp 403-407


On June 30, 1973, after 64 years of continuous opera­tion, the USDA Cotton Insects Research Laboratory, Tallulah, Louisiana, closed. Since the Laboratory began in 1909, many prominent entomologists have been mem­bers of the staff. Their pioneering efforts in evaluating and developing chemical insecticides and application tech­niques for the control of pest insects in cotton are widely recognized. The Laboratory was the acknowledged leader in research on the boll weevil, Anthonomus grandis Boheman, for over half a century and provided an in-valuable service to cotton growers when the boll weevil invaded the Mississippi Delta and spread to the East Coast.


Much of the history of the Tallulah Laboratory was documented in the June 1960 issue of the Bulletin of the Entomological Society of America to call attention to the 50th anniversary of the Laboratory. This earlier article was based largely on a January 1947 address "Cotton Insect Research at Tallulah, Louisiana" made by Chairman R. C. Gaines at the 21st Annual Meeting of the Cotton States Branch, American Association of Eco­nomic Entomologists, Biloxi, Mississippi. However, C. F. Rainwater, Assistant Chief, Cotton Insects Research Branch, Entomology Research Division, ARS, USDA added information concerning changes in the administration of the Laboratory in the year between 1947 and 1960. Because 26 years have passed since Mr. Gaines gave his address, the authors were asked to update the information on the laboratory so we would have a com­plete record of the contributions and personnel.


The Tallulah Laboratory, often called the "Delta Laboratory", was established July 1, 1909 as part of the Southern Field Crop Insect Investigations, Bureau of Entomology, USDA. L. O. Howard of Washington, D. C. was Chief of the Bureau of Entomology when the Laboratory was established. R. A. Cushman was the Laboratory's first director, and he remained in charge until November 1910. He was succeeded by G. D. Smith who held the position until the spring of 1915, when he, in turn, was succeeded by B. R. Coad. From 1909-1925 the cotton insect investigations at Tallulah were part of the USDA Division of Southern Field Crop Insect Investigations, which was directed by W. D. Hunter at Houston, Texas. Shortly after Dr. Hunter's death on October 13, 1925, the Division of Cotton Insect Investi­gations was created. The Headquarters for this new Division were established at Tallulah, and B. R. Coad was placed in charge of both the Division Headquarters and the Tallulah Laboratory. He remained in these capacities until Jan. 27, 1931, when he was succeeded by R. W. Harned. However, the Division Headquarters and Harned were moved from Tallulah to Washington, D.C., in January 1931. R. C. Gaines was placed in charge of the Laboratory at Tallulah.


Mr. Gaines continued in charge of the Tallulah Laboratory for 25 years until July 15, 1956 when he was trans­ferred to Baton Rouge where he headed a new labora­tory established in cooperation with the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station to study the problem of resistance of cotton insects to insecticides. Thus from July 16 until Nov. 5, 1956, T. R. Pfrimmer was acting in charge of the Tallulah Laboratory, G. L. Smith was in charge from that date until he retired July 3, 1964, and Tomie C. Cleveland was in charge until the labora­tory ceased operations in 1973.


In the early days, the work of the Tallulah Laboratory was concerned mostly with the life history, habits, and control of the boll weevil. Then for several years, many of the studies had to do with lead arsenate. Finally in 1916, calcium arsenate was used against the boll weevil and found to be more effective than any other poison previously used. Indeed, the increase in yields in test plots in 1916 and 1917 were so outstanding when fields were dusted with calcium arsenate that 35,000 acres were dusted in 1918 under the supervision of the Bureau of Entomology. The satisfactory results developed interest among manufacturers who produced about 3 million pounds of calcium arsenate in 1919, 10 million pounds in 1920, and 60-70 million pounds annually thereafter, until the synthetic organic insecticides entered the picture in the late 1940's.


During the first few years it was used, calcium arsenate was a crude product. First the chemists at the Tallulah Laboratory stabilized its physical and chemical properties; the dust formulation they developed was con­sidered the best one ever from the standpoint of the qualities necessary for good plant coverage. Then the Tallulah chemists produced calcium arsenates with vary­ing percentages of water soluble arsenic and calcium arsenates containing no free lime; however, none of these replaced regular calcium arsenate. Meanwhile, field ex­periments were being conducted at Tallulah and in many places throughout the cotton belt to determine the poundage of the chemical and the intervals between applications that would give the most returns.


The development of calcium arsenate as an insecticide made necessary the development of machines that could be used to apply the material to cotton. With the cooperation and aid of the Bureau of Public Roads, engi­neers stationed at Tallulah developed a rotary-type hand gun that could be used to dust 8 acres of cotton every 4 or 5 days; a 2-nozzle saddle gun for dusting 40-50 acres; a 2-nozzle traction machine for treating 40-60 acres; a 3 to 5-nozzle traction machine for 75-150 acres; power-operated machines for 200-300 acres; and tractor-operated machines for still larger acreages. In 1922, in cooperation with the United States Air Service, Tallulah personnel conducted the 1st experiments with calcium arsenate applied from airplanes to cotton plants for cotton insect control. For such applications suitable equipment was subsequently developed by the engineers. As a re­sult, hundreds of airplanes throughout the cotton belt were equipped for dusting cotton and other crops.


Thus by the late 1920's, 3 new industries, the manufacture of calcium arsenate, ground and aerial dusting machinery, and an aerial dusting service, had resulted from the research at the Tallulah Laboratory. More than 30 companies were manufacturing calcium arsenate in 1920, and many models of dusting machines were soon on the market


From 1920, hundreds of proposed methods of controlling the boll weevil were tested at Tallulah including many weevil-catching and square-collecting devices and machines. Other research having to do with boll wee­vils including cage hibernation studies, examinations of Spanish moss and later of surface woods trash to determine the number of weevils surviving the winter in nature, examinations of cotton plants in May and June for overwintered weevils, a study of movement with flight screens, determination of longevity, chemotropism, parasites and alternate host plants. The parasite studies included much work with native parasites and also the introduction and liberation of foreign parasites, parti­cularly Triaspis vestiticida Viereck and Bracon vestiti­cide (Viereck).


However, as calcium arsenate came into general use for control of boll weevils, infestations of the cotton aphid, Aphis gossypii (Glover), increased. These de­structive infestations occurred largely because the cal­cium arsenate was killing off predators and parasites of the aphids. Therefore, the Tallulah Iaboratory in operation with State Agricultural Experiment Stations investigated modifications of boll weevil control that would also provide control of the cotton aphid. This was accomplished by adding 2% nicotine to alternate applications of calcium arsenate or 1% nicotine in all applications. Considerable time was devoted to the problem of controlling cotton leafworms Alabama argillatea (Hubner), and insects associated with cotton fleahopper, Pseudatomoscelis seriatus (Reuter). Also, some work was done against thrips, (Frankliniella spp.), crickets (Gryllus spp.), and other miscellaneous insects.


The applications of calcium arsenate dust to the field plots at Tallulah (at either 4-or 5-day intervals each season) gave an average increase in yield of seed cotton for the 27 years (1920-1946) of 314 lb/acre, 22.5%, compared with untreated plots. In the 8 years, 1938-1946 calcium arsenate alone gave an average increase in of 154 lb/acre, or 10.1%, compared with 378 lbs, 24.8% for calcium arsenate plus nicotine.


While exact figures for the amount of calcium arsenate used on cotton are not available, a large proportion of all that was manufactured was used on cotton. It is estimated that the 2 million or more acres dusted annually for boll weevil control increased the grower's profit by many times the total spent by the USDA on boll weevil research once the research was started in 1894. The use of calcium arsenate was thus advantageous, but the ma­terial was by no means a perfect insecticide. A less expensive material was needed that was more toxic than calcium arsenate as a stomach poison or that would kill by contact. Also, one was needed that would not cause an increase of aphid populations. The insecticides that became available for control of the boll weevil and other cotton insects in the 1940's were therefore most wel­comed. The Laboratory contributed to the development of these organochlorine and organophosphorous com­pounds and later the carbamates. Toxaphene, BHC, aldrin, dieldrin, and heptachlor rapidly replaced calcium arsenate for boll weevil control. What was more, they also controlled Hefiothis zea (Boddie) when they were used in combination with DDT. The Tallulah Laboratory contributed to the development of low-volume spray ap­plications of these insecticides for control of cotton insects, and this method soon replaced dust formulations for a number of reasons.


The effect of the improved insect control that resulted from the development of the organochlorine and organo­phosphorous insecticides is illustrated by the increases in yield that were obtained in treated plots at Tallulah compared with untreated plots. For example, from 1920 to 1956, the increase in yield averaged 31.0%. However, before the advent of the new insecticides in 1945 they averaged 26.0% compared with 41.0% after 1945.


During World War II and the Korean Conflict and through 1954, the laboratory had the responsibility for conducting cotton insect surveys in Louisiana and Arkan­sas. The objective was to alert industry to possible outbreaks of pest insects so the necessary insecticide would be available when and where they were needed. The Laboratory also advised the War Production Board on needed allocations of steel for insecticide containers and application equipment, and a weekly report was issued and made available to communication media concerning the pest insect situations in the various areas of the 2 States.

In 1955, researchers determined that the boll weevil in Louisiana had developed resistance to organochlorine insecticides. However, the toxaphene plus DDT mixture continued to be effective against these resistant boll wee­vils, fortunately, methyl parathion had been studied and was available for use in weevil control. It has since continued to be widely used for the control of this insect pest.

In subsequent years the Laboratory contributed to the development of systemic insecticides for control of several early-season insects that attack cotton, helped develop ultra-low volume applications of insecticides for boll weevil control, was active in the reproduction-diapause, control of boll weevil populations, and joined with 4 other cotton insect field laboratories in conducting belt-wide experiments to evaluate        candidate insecticides and microbial agents for control of various cotton insects. Also, the preliminary work of developing the Leggett pheromone boll weevil trap was done while Joe Leggett was on the staff of the Laboratory. In 1960 T, C. Cleveland of the Laboratory discovered a nematode that attacks the adult boll weevil in the northeast area of Louisiana. W. R. Nickle of ARS, USDA, Beltsville, Md. identified the nematode as a new genus and species and named it for Cleveland.


The Laboratory was closed in June 1973 in the interest of economy.


Although complete records of permanent personnel in the early years of the Laboratory are not available, those that can be so documented from files in the office of the junior author included:


          Clifford H. Billett      11/19/29 to 6/16/35 Photographer                     M. Fagan                3/1/31 to 8/3/33 Ad Assistant

          Floyd F. Bondy        5/1/17 to 5/28/27 Entomologist                          G. M. Fagan            3/1/31 to 8/3/33 Ad Assistant

          William L. Bowes     8/19/22 to 12/31/31 Machinist                           J. W. Folsom           2/7/25 to 9/24/36 Entomologist

          Hilda M. Canady      7/1/28 to 1/28/35 Secretary                               G. L. Garrison         9/1/20 to 12/?/56 Scientific Aid

          Tom P. Cassidy       2/16/17 to 3/1/25 Entomologist                          P. M. Gilmer            6/23/32 to 5/25/36 Entomologist

          A. J. Chapman        6/10/22 to 6/1/35 Entomologist                          Harry Gimora          7/8/29 to 1/18/31 Meteorologist

          J. C. Clark               11/17/31 to 5/15/36  Entomologist                     P. A. Glick               4/27/25 to 5/25/36 Entomologist

                                         6/10/59 to 12/9/63                                            R. C. Gaines           9/1/20 to 7/15/56 Entomologist

          T. C. Cleveland       12/26/56 to 6/30/73 Entomologist                      J. W. Holley             7/1/31 to 9/30/3? Watchman

          B. R. Coad              4/1/13 to 1/27/31 Entomologist                          R. W. Harned          6/20/31 to 10/16/31 Entomologist

          W. S. Cook             1/15/25 to 9/30/33 Microscopist

          R. A. Cushman        7/1/09 to 11/?/10 Entomologist

          E. W. Dunman         1/1/29 to 9/30/29 Entomologist

          K. P. Ewing             7/1/28 to 1/15/33 Entomologist









[1] Bioenviroumental Insect Control Laboratory, Stoneville, Mississippi, and National Program Staff, Beltsville, Maryland, ARS, USDA


[2] Mention of a pesticide in this paper does not constitute a recommendation of this product by the USDA.