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In 1892, near brownsville, texas, a small beetle, identified by local agricultural authorities as the Boll Weevil, or Anthonomus grandis, made its first appearance in the United States. For the next century, the tiny insect would radically alter the South's agricultural economy by attacking the region's major crop—cotton. Many believe that the weevil was one of the most important agents of social change in the South, second only to the Civil War. The beetle's destructive wrath, coupled with a backwards agricultural system known as sharecropping, impoverished the southern states and prompted Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1930s to label the South as the “nation's number one economic problem.”

Although the boll weevil is indigenous to Mexico and Central America, it is an invasive species in the ...

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