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

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

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 0465041671

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In 1876, the U.S. Congress declared the locust “the single greatest impediment to the settlement of the country between Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains.” Throughout the nineteenth century, swarms of locusts regularly swept across the American continent, turning noon into dusk, devastating farm communities, and bringing trains to a halt. The outbreaks subsided in the 1890s, and then, suddenly—and mysteriously—the Rocky Mountain locust vanished. A century later, entomologist Jeffrey Lockwood vowed to discover why.Locust is the story of how one insect shaped the history of the western United States. A compelling personal narrative drawing on historical accounts and modern science, this beautifully written book brings to life the cultural, economic, and political forces at work in America in the late nineteenth century, even as it solves one of the greatest extinction mysteries of our time.











precedent in Western culture. Two thousand years earlier, the Greek colony of Cyrenaica in North Africa adopted laws enjoining the extermination of locusts and punished violators with the brutal severity normally reserved for military deserters. Ultimately, the states found themselves in the same situation as the private charities, relief societies, and counties—overwhelmed by the scale and intensity of the locust invasions and appealing to the next higher level of government for assistance.

interest were invariably close at hand. Despite the calculated practicality of Thomas’s decision, he was soon motivated by an authentic sense of excitement and accomplishment. He loved contributing articles on economic entomology and published his first paper while still practicing law. Thomas soon found chasing insects far more to his liking than pursuing litigants, and he emerged as a potent and respected force in the field of science. With his penchant for legal debate, Thomas entered the

the small beetles were distributed across southern California. Within months of releasing these voracious predators, Riley knew he had achieved what has been called “the greatest entomological success of all time.” This was the world’s first case of “classical” biological control (the suppression of an exotic pest by introducing a natural enemy from its homeland), and the method has become one of the most effective and widely used pest management strategies in modern agriculture. Riley’s

obviously survived these conditions. It may well be the case that the woolly mammoths and cave bears of the Pleistocene declined with the end of the Ice Age some 12,000 years ago, but such dramatic events unfolded across millennia or centuries, not in a matter of two or three decades. Although climate change had the spatial scale that entomologists sought for a viable suspect in the death of the Rocky Mountain locust, the severity and duration of weather changes in the waning years of the Little

THE GLACIERS FOR biological treasure, other scientists were documenting their disappearance. The largest concentration of glaciers in the American Rocky Mountains is found in the Wind River Range of western Wyoming, and seven of the ten largest glaciers in the Rockies are nestled among these rugged peaks. These storehouses of frozen water are the aquatic savings accounts for thirsty agricultural enterprises downstream. Although the precise contribution of these ice fields to the region’s water

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