Curbing a critter's yen for cotton

By Peter Hull

non-protected cotton planted in a pattern that spells the word “Tigers.”The furry-looking insects start their development smaller than the head of a pin, but the caterpillars soon develop an appetite for cotton.

To demonstrate the insects’ destructive power, Clemson entomologist Jeremy Greene planted two cotton varieties — one genetically modified to provide protection from caterpillars, one not — at the Edisto Research and Education Center in Blackville.

The non-protected cotton was planted in a pattern that spelled the word “Tigers.” Aerial photographs taken near harvest show that the genetically modified crop survived intact, while the unprotected plants provided three square meals a day for the caterpillars.

Cotton is a $46 million crop in the Palmetto State involving hundreds of farms and thousands of jobs. Nearly all cotton varieties planted in South Carolina contain genes found in the naturally occurring Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, that help the plant make its own insecticide.

For information: Jeremy Greene, 803-284-3343,