High Plains Grasshopper

High Plains Grasshopper

High Plains Grasshopper
Photo: David J Ferguson

Outbreaks of large swarms of Grasshoppers in the US were not uncommon in the past. Under the right conditions plagues of grasshoppers could descend on an area and consume most of the vegetation. Harrison E Smith* wrote about the 1913 outbreak of the high plains grasshopper, Dissosteira longipennis, in New Mexico. The swarm devastated grass, grain and gardens in an area over 400 square miles.

Little information was available on the origin of the swarm. Smith wrote,

This outbreak originated from a tremendous swarm of adults flying from some unknown point to the north. These settled in the outlying districts of Elida, N. Mexico, during the latter part of August and early September. During one evening, when swarms of this species were passing over Elida, large numbers of them flew against the plate-glass window of a brilliantly lighted barber shop. The following morning several bushels of dead grasshoppers were heaped on the sidewalk.

During May and June of 1913, the nymphs emerged and traveled gregariously consuming all the grass in their path. The grasshoppers were so dense their movement made it appear as if the sand was moving up and down.

Herds of cattle usually grazing within this infested area were forced to travel from 11 to 13 miles for grazing facilities, and would return to their usual watering places only at intervals, varying from 24 to 56 hours. Freight and passenger trains were repeatedly stopped by grasshoppers massing upon the railroad tracks, this being frequent from the middle of May until the first of July.

The prairie grasses within the infested area were so completely ravaged that hardly a surface depression of the soil could be located which was not from one-fourth to completely filled with grasshoppers’ droppings.

In 1913, there was not much entomologist could do to stop the grasshoppers. All they could do was observe and write their observations for posterity.

*Harrison E. Smith. 1915. The Grasshopper Outbreak in New Mexico During the Summer of 1913. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bulletin No. 203

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in by jjneal, Environment. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to High Plains Grasshopper

  1. Didn’t deep plowing do away with most of them? Before more conservative plowing methods were adopted. Aren’t there still smaller infestations in Utah and ?

  2. jjneal says:

    There are still problems with some grasshopper species in the west. USDA and BLM tries to manage them.
    Utah still has problems with Mormon crickets and grasshopper swarms. None of these rise to the level of those in the past.
    Possible changes in the environment have changed the frequency and intensity of grasshopper outbreaks. Multiple factors have an influence.

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