Deadly Virus Hits Michigan Region's Cricket Supply

In a Jan. 13, 2011 photo, Donnie Cook, owner of Lou's Pet Shop in Grosse Pointe Woods,Mich., stands in his store with a Leopard Gecko. A virus that affects the European house cricket is wreaking havoc on the population here in the United States and disrupting the food supply for reptiles that dine on the insects. (AP Photo/The Detroit News, David Guralnick)


By Kelli Sutterman

GROSSE POINTE WOODS, Mich. (AP) — For a small insect, crickets are big business. Lou's Pet Shop in Grosse Pointe Woods gets a weekly shipment of 10,000 of the chirpers each week and sells roughly 8,000 of them before the next delivery arrives.

Like many of those who deal in crickets, owner Donnie Cook has had to scramble to keep up supplies.

A virus that affects the European house cricket — Acheta domestica — is wreaking havoc on the population here in the United States and disrupting the food supply for reptiles that dine on the insects.

For years, Cook bought from Top Hat Cricket Farm in Portage — the largest such operation in the region. But the cricket paralysis virus arrived at Top Hat in the spring and months later, it interrupted the flow of product.

"It affected us around the end of October and the beginning of November," Cook said. "We were out of crickets for a few weeks. And that's one of our bread and butter items."

Cook was forced to turn to a different out-of-state supplier while Top Hat officials attempt to deal with the virus.

Company officials could not be reached for comment recently, but Top Hat's website includes a message to customers detailing the steps being taken to get the business back on its feet again. That includes scouring and sterilizing the facility, removing all of the stock and putting the operation on hold.

"Our plan at this point is to allow our facility to sit empty until the springtime, giving us the time we need to re-invent the way we operate so that we may provide everyone with clean and healthy crickets when we return to normal production," the website reads.

Top Hat is far from alone in its plight. In Canada, 60 million crickets have been lost to the virus; one farm in Florida has been forced to close. Michigan State University entomologist Suzanne Thiem has worked with officials at Top Hat to rid the facility of the virus.

"They're the only ones who have had the guts to try it this way," Thiem said. "It's a challenge — a real challenge — and I'm rooting for them. But I won't put odds on how well it will work."

For his part, Cook hopes Top Hat will be able to get back in business soon.

"They had a great product and they were the biggest operation that I know of," he said. "When they're back up and running, we'll definitely divert back to them."

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