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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about Rocky Mountain Locusts. One hundred twenty-five summers ago, a plague of locusts chewed its way across the American West.


CURWOOD: A hundred and twenty-five summers ago, a plague of biblical proportions hit the North American heartland. That's when hordes of Rocky Mountain locusts chewed their way across the Great Plains. "A large black cloud suddenly appeared high in the west," one Minnesota farmer wrote, "from which came an ominous sound: the scourge of the prairies was upon us." Locusts are grasshoppers which swarm together to migrate. The name "locust" comes from the Latin for "burnt place." And that's how the landscape can look once the insects have had their way. In 1875 a doctor in Nebraska estimated that one swarm moved over an area of almost 200,000 square miles with an estimated twelve-and-a-half trillion bugs. And could those bugs ever eat! They devoured any and all vegetation, along with wooden tool handles, clothes drying on the line, even wool off the backs of sheep. The bugs returned in lesser numbers after 1875. And then suddenly, around the turn of the century, the locusts disappeared. It might have been the unwitting revenge of the settlers. They converted land for agriculture and may have destroyed the grasshoppers' habitat. There is one place you can still see some of these ravenous insects. A few of them are preserved in the ice of Knife Point Glacier in Wyoming. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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