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Natural North Dakota

Grasshoppers Darken the Sun

I have been reading Military Life in Dakota – the journal of Philippe Regis de Trobriand, published in 1951 by the Alvord Memorial Commission. De Trobriand, a colonel in the Army, was assigned to a post at Fort Stevenson, Dakota Territory in 1867. Fort Stevenson, of course, was located near the Missouri River not far from present day Garrison. He would spend two and one-half years there, and his journal provides an interesting look at life at the post, and insight into the natural history of the area, from bison and prairie fires, to wild onions and grasshoppers.

Yes, grasshoppers! Many among us have heard stories about grasshoppers, but firsthand written accounts are less frequent, although probably more accurate. De Trobriand wrote in his journal during July of 1868 about an incident involving grasshoppers. Here are a few excerpts from his journal entry from July 20 of that summer.

“Another incident occurred during the day, which I cannot leave out here: Around noon, a cloud of grasshoppers began to show up in the sky. A multitude of these fearful insects flew skimming along the ground, and the layers seemed to thicken as they rose in the air…looked like a thick dust of white specks which drifted, passed each other, and multiplied in the air…a great murmur like the steady rumble of faraway carriages filled the air all around.”

And that wasn’t the end of it. Here are some observations from the next day.

“The grasshoppers came back…for more than six hours, they passed over, flying low, many of them almost touching the ground and all going uniformly from north to south….The flying host swept on relentlessly, flecking the sky like snowflakes driven by the wind; and if one looked at the effect of the wings of these right in the sun, he would have said that it was snowing grasshoppers…It is no exaggeration to say that the sun was darkened by it, while, from the air, the great rustling noise I mentioned yesterday came again, stronger than ever…half an hour went by before it cleared.”

That is hard to put into perspective. These grasshoppers may have been a species of locust which is now extinct. But there are a few grasshoppers that have been known to occasionally have outbreaks of this magnitude.

~Chuck Lura

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