Albert’s Swarm

A nightmare unimaginable, rarely mentioned in history books , that caused such damage that huge areas in several states were to be abandoned, often with the aid of troops.

A sudden unexplained migration of frontier population to the coastline. The year was 1875 and it soon was to be called the “Year of the Grasshopper“.

It was the year 1875 that will long be remembered by the people of at least four states, as the grasshopper year. The scourge struck Western Missouri April, 1875, and commenced devastating some of the fairest portions of our noble commonwealth. They gave Henry [County] an earnest and overwhelming visitation, and demonstrated with an amazing rapidity that their appetite was voracious, and that everything green belonged to them for their sustenance.

 

The Rocky Mountain Locust or Melanoplus Spretus

 

 

 

 

Sightings often placed their swarms in numbers far larger than any other species of locust, with one swarm as recorded at 198,000 square miles (513,000 km²) in size (greater than the area of California), weighing 27.5 million tons, and consisting of some 12.5 trillion insects – the greatest concentration of animals ever recorded.

The grasshoppers traveled in a “perfect swarm.” From July 20 to July 30, 1874, this perfect swarm, again larger than the size of California, flew between Minnesota and the Rio Grande and feasted on the crops of unsuspecting farmers.

The insects arrived in swarms so large they blocked out the sun and sounded like a rainstorm! In the hardest hit areas, the red-legged creatures devoured entire fields of wheat, corn, potatoes, turnips, tobacco, and fruit. The hoppers also gnawed curtains and clothing hung up to dry or still being worn by farmers, who frantically tried to bat the hungry swarms away from their crops.

Attracted to the salt from perspiration, the over-sized insects chewed on the wooden handles of rakes, hoes, and pitchforks, and on the leather of saddles and harness, and wool from live sheep. Tree bark would be stripped off of the trees, leaving tree trunks barren.  There would be so many locusts that the locomotives would be stopped cold, not being able to get traction because the insects made the rails too slippery.

So where did the title of this post come from? From a person by the name of Albert Child, a physician who actually measured the swarm. Forever known afterwords as Albert’s Swarm, this quote describes what seems to be almost indescribable …

“According to the first-hand account of A. L. Child transcribed by Riley et al. (1880), a swarm of Rocky Mountain locusts passed over Plattsmouth, Nebraska, in 1875. By timing the rate of movement as the insects streamed overhead for 5 days and by telegraphing to surrounding towns, he was able to estimate that the swarm was 1,800 miles long and at least 110 miles wide. Based on his information, this swarm covered a swath equal to the combined areas of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.”

I think that may need to be repeated…  A swarm of locusts that is 1800 miles long and 110 miles wide !!

Farm machine to scoop up locusts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“In 1875, near Lane, Kansas, they crossed the Potawotomie Creek, which is about four rods wide, by millions; while the Big and Little Blues, tributaries of the Missouri, near Independence, the one about 100 feet wide at its mouth, and the other not so wide, were crossed at numerous places by the moving armies, which would march down to the water’s edge and commence jumping in, one upon another, till they would pontoon the stream, so as to effect a crossing. Two of these mighty armies also met, one moving east and the other west, on the river-bluff, in the same locality, and each turning their course north and down the bluff, and coming to a perpendicular ledge of rock 25 or 30 feet high, passed over in a sheet apparently 6 or 7 inches thick, and causing a roaring noise similar to a cataract of water.”
Riley’s Eighth Report, p. 118. recorded in First Annual Report Of The United States Entomological Commission For The Year 1877 Relating To The Rocky Mountain Locust

Burning the Locusts

So what happened to the Rocky Mountain Locust after that devastating year? No one really knows for sure. Within 4 years, they were scarcely seen again. By 1902, the insect was officially declared extinct.. never to be seen again.

One of the great mysteries of nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

Locust: the Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect that Shaped the American Frontier

Grasshoppered: America’s response to the 1874 Rocky Mountain locust invasion

United States Department of Interior 1877 Report on the Rocky Mountain Locust

 

 

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11 Comments

  1. Ok, you shouldn’t do that to me after dinner with the pipe…ya know? I tried to brush that off my screen for 3 or 4 minutes. That was an amazing tale. Scary and freaky. You are good to find those Krell! This is a goodie!

    • Krell says:

      LOL! It was a creepy touch wasn’t it. I messed around with a grasshopper gif but it didn’t come out right.
      Anyway.. thanks for the kind words Gwen.

  2. osori says:

    Pure Krell man! What an incredible post, what stunning mental imagery. I’m imagining myself there, those things crawling all over, unable to open one’s eyes or mouth. Fording, pontooning with their bodies – 1800 by 100 miles, then they disappear from history. Damn, what a story!

    • Krell says:

      I guess it does have the mark of the “Krell”, huh? When you think about it.. it wasn’t that long ago really. A generation or 2 back.

      I find these quirky stories just fascinating and I’m so glad that other people appreciate them. Thanks.

  3. mbarnato says:

    Amazing! We’ve heard of locust swarms, but this was a LOCUST SWARM!!! Those dimensions stagger the imagination. I particularly like the part about munching the peoples’ clothing while still being worn. Yum! Another strange but true-life nature mystery… Cool topic, Krell!

    • Krell says:

      My mind still cannot fathom what a swarm of locusts, basically grasshoppers on steroids, would look like that is 1800 miles long and 100 miles wide. Still can’t visualize it.

      I remember reading a book about nanobots and swarms not too long ago by Creighton. Book was Prey and it had all that grey goo and nanobot tech. But when you think about it, this locust swarm is greater than any fictional topic like that.

      Truly a nightmare of biblical proportions. I bet more than a few farmers had the thought that this was the end times or the wrath of God was occurring.

  4. dp1053 says:

    I would imagine the birds had a good time with all that free food around, but as for me, EEEWWWWW!!! Great post and while I love Mother Nature, I’m kinda glad they went extinct. Sorry Mother.

    • Krell says:

      I bet the birds were completely overwhelmed with the sheer number. Yes… EEEEWWW is the correct response for all sane people.
      I think Mother Nature was on a crazy spell with this one.

  5. PENolan says:

    Funny – I learned about this swarming stuff in one of Laura Ingals Wilder’s books.
    Love the bug . . .

  6. Jeffery A Lockwood, an entomologist from the University of Wyoming, tells in his amazing book LOCUST that, despite all human efforts to combat the locusts with machines, sprays, chemicals and other efforts, it was actually human agricultural activities in the high meadows of the mountains where the locusts bred that made them go extinct. Without realizing it, farmers plowed up their nesting sites and effectively wiped them out of existence. And however much we might breathe a sigh of relief that locusts are no longer here to plague us (literally), we should remember that the Monarch butterfly and various bird and mammal species have similarly narrowly focused breeding areas. Even when we’re not trying to, the juggernaut of human activity forces other species out of existence.

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