Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Prairie Mystery

As I was doing research for my non-fiction project, Gathering the Wind, I came across a startling discovery. One of the weather related examples I use in the book is the Grasshopper plagues that affected several Midwestern states during 1873 through 1877. The grasshoppers, otherwise known as Rocky Mountain locusts, often arrived in great swirling masses that resembled storm clouds and went on to destroy countless acres of crops to the tune of over $200 million in damage.

Here's the odd part, though. By 1902, the locusts were gone. Gone, as in extinct.

So I began to read several articles as to how such a widespread population of bugs could just suddenly disappear. No one seems to know for sure, but according to a New York Times article and this article, theories range from plowing/irrigation practices to farmers bringing in "insect eating birds". How could a swarm once described as being "1,800 miles long and 110 miles wide" disappear due to increased plowing?

I have driven along long stretches of Interstate 90 over the years. I can tell you there is an awful lot of open space between the South Dakota/Minnesota border and Washington state, and it isn't all farmland or mountains. Somehow I think there is a lot more to this story than just birds and plowed land.

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