WORLD’S LARGEST CROC ( MAN CAN’T LEAVE DA#! THING ALONE:
LOCUSTS INVADE ISRAEL:
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1874: The Year of the Locust
Looking Back at the Days of the Locust
Sweeping across North America, flying hordes of Rocky Mountain locusts were once an awesome and horrifying sight, huge glittering clouds of insects laying waste countless acres of crops. Throughout the 1800’s, the whirring swarms periodically ravaged farm fields from California east to Minnesota and south to Texas.
The locusts were easy to please, eating barley, buckwheat, melons, tobacco, strawberry, spruce, apple trees — even fence posts, laundry hung out to dry and each other.
When women threw blankets over their gardens, the locusts devoured the blankets then feasted on the plants. Farmers lit fires, blasted shotguns into the swarms and scoured their fields with so-called hopperdozers, large metal scoops, smeared with tar or molasses to grab as many of the offenders as possible. But it was all to no avail.
In her book ”On the Banks of Plum Creek,” Laura Ingalls Wilder recalls the horrid feeling of the huge insects clinging to her clothes, writhing and squishing beneath her bare feet and the sound of ”millions of jaws biting and chewing” as the locusts destroyed her family’s wheat fields in Minnesota.
n 1875 the species formed the largest recorded locust swarm in the history of humankind, 1,800 miles long and 110 miles wide, equaling the combined area of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. Thousands of farm families threw in their shovels and gave up.
A mere 28 years later, this seemingly indestructible enemy vanished. The last collection of a live Rocky Mountain locust was made 100 years ago, in 1902.
Now a century after the last entomologist laid hands on one of these squirming, flitting creatures, scientists say they are beginning to piece together the story of how the species may have disappeared. While still far from consensus, researchers are finding clues in places like remote glaciers and farmers’ planting records in the 1880’s.
”When it comes to extinction, we all hear about species that are taking a nose dive,” said Dr. William Chapco, evolutionary biologist at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan. ”But a species that was so plentiful at one time, that is no longer with us, that’s a real mystery.”
The disappearance of the Rocky Mountain locust, also known as the Rocky Mountain grasshopper, has inspired no end of theories among scientists. (Locust, in fact, is simply a term used to describe beefy grasshoppers that gather in perilously large and hungry swarms.)
For the most part, researchers have looked to large-scale environmental changes. Some have blamed the disappearance of buffalo, suggesting that bison wallows may have been a critical habitat for the locusts. Others suggest the reduction in American Indian populations and their use of controlled fires may have led to habitat changes that brought on the locusts’ decline. But these theories do not hold up under scrutiny, said Dr. Jeffrey A. Lockwood, entomologist at the University of Wyoming, and others.
Instead Dr. Lockwood suggests the locust was more likely done in on a much smaller scale by the very farmers whom the locust caused so much misery.
”As far as I know, this is the only example of a pest insect driven extinct anywhere” in the history of agriculture, he said. And, he says, the settlers appear to have carried out this extermination entirely inadvertently.
Rather than eliminating the locusts as they intended with fires and hopperdozers, the pioneers, Dr. Lockwood theorizes, killed the locusts by transforming the land to their own tastes, land that now appears to have been the heart of the species’ breeding ground and ultimately, its Achilles’ heel.
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