Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska

Physical and Natural Features
Produced by Gary Martens and Connie Snyder.

Part 1:

Topography and General Character of Nebraska
Climatology of Nebraska

Part 2:
Climatology of Nebraska (cont.)
Part 3:

Waters of Nebraska
Drainage of Nebraska and the Character of its Water

Part 4:

General Flora of Nebraska | Forest Trees and Shrubs
Wild Fruits | Natural Fauna | Mammals | Birds | Reptiles
Fishes | Insect Life

Part 5:
The Locusts | Mollusks | Healthfulness of Nebraska

Part 5


   *The reader is referred for a detailed account of the locust question to the Report of the United States Entomological Commission for 1887, which includes the writer's investigations and conclusions on this subject at a greater length and fullness.

   Nothing in the natural history of Nebraska has excited more general interest than the locust question.

   The migrating locust (Caloptenus spretus) is native to the high and dry regions of the Rocky Mountains. Its permanent habitat is the region between latitude 43° and 53° north, and 103° and 114° west of Greenwich. Even some portions of this section are sometimes deserted for a few years for other grounds, but always somewhere within this territory they will be found to exist. In a majority of years, some Locusts will also be found to breed south of the above line, along the region west of longitude 105° 30. The great interior region between the Wasatch and the Sierras, over much of its territory, will be found to harbor a few during most years. Whenever, therefore, over these regions the conditions are favorable, they increase to astonishing numbers. These favoring conditions are exceptional dryness and warmth. If two such seasons follow each other in the native habitat of the locust, they are sure to migrate.

   Their Spring History and Migration.--After they hatch out in the spring, it takes about seven weeks before they reach their full growth. During this time, they molt five different times, and each time change slightly in color. Only at the last molt are full wings acquired, the thorax flattened and the insect ceases to grow. Where now they cover the ground in their native haunts from their abundance, the scanty vegetation is soon exhausted. It is now that they manifest their peculiar instincts. They take short flights for several weeks, apparently to test and strengthen their newly acquired wings. The warm, pleasant days, with gentle winds, are the favorable periods for flight. When all is in readiness, they rise from 8 to 10 o'clock in the forenoon and move off with a rapidity dependent on the wind, varying from three to fifteen miles an hour. They do not move in broad sheets, but in columns, like fleecy clouds, from one to five thousand feet thick. They sometimes continue their flight through clear, warm, moonlight nights, but more generally come down between 3 and 5 o'clock to feed. On the following day they continue their flight if the weather is favorable. A change of wind or fall of temperature brings them to the ground at any time. From their native habitat they move mainly in an easterly, southeasterly and southern direction. Moving in this direction, those that commence migrating from Northern Montana, by the middle of July reach Southern Dakota Territory, and in some cases probably Nebraska, and even Kansas, some time in August or September. Generally, however, those that come into Nebraska and Kansas were hatched and matured south of Montana. It takes generally from two to three seasons for them to reach these latitudes. They do not always deposit their eggs when they first light. Frequently they remain from one day to three weeks, and then move further on before egg-laying is commenced.

   The numbers that light is often enormous. In 1866, in Cedar County, during July, they appeared in such numbers that the sun was darkened. The limbs of trees bent down and broke under their weight. It was exceedingly difficult for one to move through the living mass. Others have had and reported similar experiences. It is true that such cases are extreme and exceptional, and occur at long intervals over limited areas. It has been no uncommon thing, however, for them to be so abundant as to entirely cover the ground.

   Egg-Laying.--The time for the commencement of egg-laying varies somewhat in different years and localities. Generally it commences about the middle of August and continued to severe frosts, and lasts therefore from six to eight weeks. In 1876, the locusts were laying eggs far into October. The female generally lays three times, at intervals of from three days to three weeks. Each egg mass contains from twenty to thirty-five eggs.

   Place and Method of Egg-Laying.--The places for egg-laying are not uniformly the same. They seem to prefer ground that is high and dry, and somewhat compact. Low lands, however, that are dry, are much used for this purpose. Roadsides are frequently honeycombed with holes, but comparatively few egg masses are found there. New breaking is generally fuller of eggs than any other kind of ground. The number laid is often simply enormous. I have often found sections of land where the eggs averaged from ten to fourteen thousand, and in rare instances to upward of twenty-one thousand, to the square foot. These enormous numbers are only reached during years when the locust swarms are exceptionally dense.

   Manner of Egg-Laying.--When the female is about to lay her eggs, she selects a spot and "forces a hole in the ground by means of the two pairs of horny valves, which open and shut, at the tip of her abdomen, and which from their peculiar structure is admirably fitted for the purpose. With the valves closed, she pushes the tips into the ground, and, by a series of muscular efforts and the continued opening and shutting of the valves, she drills a hole until, in a few moments (the time varying with the nature of the soil), the whole abdomen is buried. The abdomen stretches to its utmost for this purpose, especially at the middle, and the hole is generally a little curved and more or less oblique. Now, with hind-legs hoisted straight above the back and the shanks hugging more or less closely the thighs, she commences ovipositing."--(Riley.) Before the eggs come out, there exudes from the end of the body a mucous matter which fills the bottom of the hole and bathes the valves. The eggs separately, by convulsive throbs, are placed in order in the hole. The mucous matter binds all the eggs together. When the locust is through with this process, she fills the upper end of the mass with the same mucous matter, and then shuts up the hole carefully. This mucus, after hardening, is only pervious to water under frequent changes of temperature and during long wet seasons.

   When severe frost comes, the old die off rapidly, and at the appearance of permanent cold weather they have all disappeared.

   Hatching.--It often happens that, during the long, dry autumns of Nebraska, great numbers of the earlier-laid eggs hatch out and soon perish with the cold of winter. Many eggs also become segmented in autumn, and whether they survive till spring in a healthy condition is still, with many, a disputed question. My own opinion. derived from the closest observation, is that all such come out in the spring, if they come out at all, in a sickly condition and soon perish. Sometimes, too, as happened in 1877, there is much warm weather in January and February, during which great numbers hatch out that invariably perish by the subsequent cold weather. During spring, the great hatching months are March and April. In these months, cold always interrupts the process. This occurred in the spring of 1877, when there were many cold days and chilly winds, and as a consequence, hatching was not over till early June.

   Departure of Locusts.--As already stated, a few days after the last molt on favorable days they are disposed to migrate. No exception to this rule is known in the region of the plains. It is possible that where they are few in number in their native habitat they do not always migrate, but even that is uncertain. In Nebraska, Iowa, Dakota, Kansas and Missouri, they are disposed to return to their native regions. They therefore move mainly northward and westward. Their instincts seem to force them to drier and higher regions, where they originated. Such was specially the case when countless millions left the State in 1876. During 1877, the spring of which was rainy, cold and chilly, the greater part of those that hatched out soon perished, and the few that survived seemed sickly and demoralized. These survivors first mainly moved northward, and then moved southward, and finally were seen to move in all directions; often two columns, one above the other, moving in opposite directions. The greater part of this season's product of locusts evidently ran out, and perished by too long a stay in a region unadapted to them.

   Destructiveness of Locusts.--When the migrating locusts make their appearance in Nebraska, the cereal grains are already harvested. Wheat, oats and barley are safe. Corn and the gardens are the victims, if they come before the former are sufficiently ripened to resist their attacks, which has not always been the case. A swarm of locusts in July and August can ruin a field of corn in a few days, and sometimes in a few hours. Often the fields are only partially destroyed. Sometimes the silk and foliage are partially eaten off, and the ends of the ears bared, so that the crop cannot mature. If they leave at this stage of their proceedings, all is well, and if not, their eggs are deposited and the wheat crop endangered during the coming spring. The countless numbers that are hatched out, if the spring happens to be favorable to them, become exceedingly voracious. As they soon commence to move by jumping in one direction, when abundant they are apt to devour everything in their path. This continues until they are old enough to fly, when they depart for other regions. Generally, some corn can be saved in spring, and late planting may entirely escape. Often the third planting of corn during locust years yielded a fair crop. The cereal grains have, however, in some places, and during a few years, been largely destroyed during the time between the hatching-out and flying of the locusts.

   How to Combat and Destroy the Locusts.--No successful method has yet been devised to destroy the locusts on their first appearance in migrating swarms from the northwest. The injury, as already stated, which they now do is to the corn crops and the gardens, and sometimes to young growing fruit and forest trees. The eggs, however, which are laid in autumn, have been frequently destroyed by repeatedly harrowing the ground, breaking up the nests, and exposing them to the action of rain and cold and birds. Hon. R. W. Furnas, of Brownville, who first to my knowledge devised this method, found it to be very successful. Plowing them under very deep also destroys great numbers. When they hatch out in spring in destructive numbers, the most vigorous methods need to be employed. One of the most successful ways of destroying them is the digging of ditches around fields across the path on which they are moving. If the trenches are made from twelve to fourteen inches deep, and still deeper holes dug every few rods in the trenches, the young locusts first get into the trenches, then into the holes, where, unable to get out, they can be destroyed by piling ground on them. I have known many farmers to save their entire crops in this way in the very midst of the most infected districts.

   Still others have saved their crops by a system very generally in use in the spring of 1877. Pans made of sheet-iron, from five to ten feet long, low in front and high behind and at the sides, with cross-partitions from front to rear, is the general plan of the apparatus used. A little coal oil is placed in these pans and dragged over the fields by hand or horse power The young locusts jump into or over the pans, and even the fumes are fatal to them. In this way I have known fourteen bushels to be captured in one day by one man. The combination of these two plans--ditching and coal-oil pans--will save any farm in the spring from the ravages of the brood hatched in that locality, if commenced in time. Unfortunately, farmers too often simply look on until their crops are partly destroyed before anything is done to protect themselves. It requires energy and decision to do this, but, when it is properly commenced and persevered in, it is successful.

   Nature's Method of Destroying Locusts.--Nature has placed limits to the increase of the individuals of a species. .When is an undue increase from exceptionally favoring conditions, either natural enemies soon proportionally increase, or the need of food compels migration, which often forces them to unhealthy regions. This is specially the case with the migrating locust. Its native habitat is a high, dry region, where the rainfall is from ten to twenty inches a year. It cannot long endure a combination of low altitudes and moisture, combined with extreme and sudden changes of temperature. Hence the locust can never become localized in Nebraska. The memorable spring of 1877 is a notable illustration of this fact. In March and April, immense numbers hatched out, and then followed cold rains, with sudden alternations of extremes of temperature. Countless millions of young locusts died. In many spots where the ground was covered, none could be found in a few days. Nothing convinced me that death was the cause of their disappearance, until, examining the ground with a huge magnifying glass, I found their dead carcasses. The young brood just hatched out disappeared as if by magic from whole counties. The localities where much damage was done were exceedingly few. The brood was so impaired constitutionally that it fell an easy victim to the extremes of a moist climate in a comparatively low altitude. I also noticed, in previous locust years, that moisture, accompanied by an extremely hot or cold day, was always fatal to many of them. From the time they leave their native habitat, constitutional impairment sets in, and a few years in lower moister regions exterminates them, unless they speedily return to their upland dry home.

   Invertebrate Enemies.--It is a law of nature that the undue development of any animal is checked sooner or later by a like increase of its natural enemies. Were it not for that law, the slowest breeding species would soon overrun, to the exclusion of all other animals, its own special habitat.

   Among locust egg destroyers, no insect equals in efficacy the Anthomyia egg-parasite (Anthomyia angustifrons). A few were noticed in 1874, and by 1876 it destroyed about 10 per cent of the eggs in Nebraska, and Prof. Thomas reports an equal destruction in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota. He also remarks that "we never dug for five minutes among the locust eggs, anywhere in our travels during May, without finding this parasite in various stages of development." It is a small white maggot, and is found in the locust egg pod extracting the juices and leaving nothing but dry, dissolved shells. From this maggot is developed a small, gray, two-winged fly, about one-fourth of an inch long. The common flesh fly, many species of ground, blister, soldier and dick beetles, also prey on locust eggs.

   After the locusts emerge from the eggs, their greatest insect enemy is the locust mite (Trombidium locustarium). It also preys on the eggs. The parent mite lays from three to four hundred eggs, and therefore increases at a prodigious rate. The young mite manages to fasten itself on the locust, especially during and after rains, and mostly lodges under the base of the wings. Such numbers are often found lodged on single locusts as necessarily to produce death. During locust flights, I have frequently seen hundreds fall to the ground, which, on examination, proved to be partially destroyed by these mites. Ground beetles, asilus flies, flesh flies, digger wasps and tachina flies, especially the latter, also feed on locusts and destroy great numbers. Hair worms, spiders, soldier bugs and dragon flies also prey on the locust.

   Vertebrate Enemies.--Among vertebrates, no animals equal the birds as destroyers of insects, and especially of locusts. The numbers of locusts which birds consume is simply incalculable. Many species in locust years live entirely on them, and most do so partially. Often each bird of a species captures several hundred during each day. In fact, after many years' study of this subject, and after dissecting more or less of several hundred species, I have been forced to the conviction that even the gramnivorous birds cannot be excluded from the list of locust enemies. The reader will find the record of each case of dissection of over two hundred species of our birds, which I made during many years, in the report of the United States Entomological Commission for 1877. It is clear to my mind that few as yet appreciate the great and commanding importance of protecting our birds. If this was properly done, few species of insects would ever increase to destructive numbers. Unfortunately, the savage is still dominant in man, and many calling themselves cultivated regard it sport to maim and kill innocent birds. Such a course destroys the harmony of nature, and one of the consequences is the devastations of insects.

   Extent of Locust Invasions.--Unfortunately, the human mind has a great tendency to exaggeration. Owing to this, during every locust invasion, the damage done has been greatly overestimated. In 1874, 1876 and 1877, they did much damage, but by no means as much as reported. The drought, human indolence and carelessness did much more. I knew men during these years that never touched their corn after it was planted, and, of course, got none, as they did not deserve any, who yet charged the locusts with destroying their crops, though none had come within five miles of their homesteads.

   Generally, there are many years between great locust invasions. It never occurs that the whole State suffers at once. While the small visitations have been more frequent, the destructive ones occur at very long intervals, and over comparatively small areas.

   Future Locust Depredations.--One reason for the destructiveness of locusts heretofore has been the small area under cultivation, even in the then thickest settlements. The locusts seemed to select the corn-fields and gardens for their feeding-grounds. When the area under cultivation is trebled, the amount of damage which they can do will be more than one-half less. Another more potent agency against their increase and destructiveness is the increasing rainfall of the State. We have already seen how the wet season of 1877 destroyed the greater part of those that appeared that spring. During each coming decade, the number of similar seasons will increase. The instincts of the locust will also prompt it to remain away from a region so hostile to its existence.

   While, therefore, the presence of the locust in the trans-Missouri region is extremely undesirable, it is by no means the pest that it sometimes has been represented to be. Human energy and skill can in a large measure counteract their injurious effects.

   We have now passed in review the native vertebrate and articulate life of the State--the latter only in its insect class. This sketch would not be complete without reference to


   *For a specific list of our Land and Fresh Water Shells, the reader is referred to the writer's Catalogue of the Land and Fresh Water Shells of Nebraska, published in Bulletin 3 Vol. III, of U. S. Geological Survey.

   There being no sea-coast, only land and fresh-water shells are found in the State. Of these the air-breathers are well represented. The vitrianæ, a sub-family closely allied to the snails, are represented by seventeen species. Of the snails proper (Helicinae), there are thirty species the most abundant of which is the spotted snail (Helix alternata). There have been classified of the Pupinæ twelve species, of Succiniæ eight species, of Zonitinæ seven species--these last being distantly allied to the preceding group. The fresh-water shells are even more abundant than the preceding land shells. Thus far, there have been found of these thirteen species of Limnæa, eight species of Physa, two of Bullimus, twelve of Planorbus, one of Segmentina, four of Ancyclus, two of Valvata, three of Vinipera, three of Melantho, two of Amnicola, two of Pomatiopsis and five Melanians. These fresh-water shells having but one valve in a spiral are often all popularly designated as water snails. But the most abundant of all our fresh-water shells are the so-called clams (Unios and Anadontas). Of the Unios there are at least sixty-seven species, and of the Margaritanas two, and of the thin-shelled, muddy bottom loving Anadontas there have been fourteen species found in the State. These are the numbers that I have identified, but as I have examined only comparatively small sections of our rivers, it cannot be possible that all the species came in my way. Many more species must, therefore, be added to our list. In fact, I have often waded in our rivers for miles without finding a single shell, and then, coming upon a hard or solid bottom of limestone, the bed appeared lined with Unios of many species. Before we know what our rivers contain of our molluscan fauna, they must be closely examined along their whole length--a task too severe for any one investigator.


   One of the most frequently-asked questions of those contemplating removal to this State is, Is Nebraska a healthy State? Among the special questions asked are: Do fever, ague, dyspepsia, consumption, etc., exist here? No spot on the globe is absolutely free from disease, but this State is singularly exempt from its severe forms. Fever and ague are more rarely met with here than in most States. Where they do occur, it is owing to limited local causes or extraordinary exposure, and they are generally successfully treated by the simplest remedies. The bad cases that have been met were almost invariably contracted elsewhere, and came here in the hope of having the disease cured by our climate. They were never disappointed if nature had given to it a chance to exert its full health-making power on their bodies. The cause of this general exemption from this class of diseases is probably found in the peculiar climate and surface conditions of the State.

   The general drainage of the State is, as we have seen, the best possible. Its general slope is east and south, the southeastern corner being the lowest. The rivers, with the smaller streams that flow into them, have high banks, on top of which the flood plains begin, and extent to a greater or less distance back to the bluffs, where there is another rise to the general plain above. The rivers themselves are generally comparatively rapid, and their flood plains are rarely a dead level, but descend gradually in the direction of the main streams. Whatever water may accumulate next to the bluffs is carried off by the lateral tributaries that join the main stream. As these smaller tributaries are met with every few miles, and often every mile, the drainage of the great majority of even the bottom lands is complete. Hence no conditions adverse to health exist on our low lands.

   The drainage character of the soil is also of the very best. It is principally made up of loess and modified drift, the former containing over 80 per cent of the finest silica, and the latter, varying amounts of coarser sand. Beneath these, unmodified drift, composed of sand, pebbles and boulders, is encountered before the clay beds that exist in some localities are reached. The drainage, therefore, of the soil is of the best possible character. Even the black surface soil, so wonderful for its fertility, contains silicious materials in sufficient quantity for good drainage.

   The consequence of such inclination of the land and character of the soil and sub-soil is that over large areas in the State standing water is unknown. Indeed, many citizens of the State, who have not traveled much, fancy that there is no standing water within its boundaries. There are, however, a few limited localities where swamps and bogs exist, such as a portion of the Missouri bottom in Dixon and Burt Counties, and on small portions of the level prairies in Clay, Webster, Fillmore and Saline Counties. Even here, the general elevation of these counties and the constant movement of the winds seem to counteract the conditions of the surface that favor malarial diseases. Not only does the atmosphere seem to be constantly in motion, but is also comparatively dry. In summer and autumn, the prevailing winds are south and southwest. In winter, the prevailing winds are from the north and northwest. In spring, the winds, as elsewhere, are exceedingly variable, and seem to be nearly equably divided between north and northwest and south and southwest. Often in the spring, the prevailing winds are from the northeast. The air is always remarkably pure and generally clear. All these are conditions that are unfavorable to the production and propagation of miasmatic poisons.

   An additional reason for the healthfulness of Nebraska might be the presence of an unusual quantity of ozone in the atmosphere. I merely suggest this as a partial explanation of this fact, as no single cause, but many combined, produce the healthfulness of a region. As is well known, ozone is found in the East in perceptible quantities only after thunder storms, by which many suppose it to be produced. As here, during much of the time before as well as after thunder showers, there is a perceptible quantity of ozone in the atmosphere--sufficient at least to respond to the Shoenbein test papers--it must have some effect on health. That its effects are salutary, especially in the destruction of malarial poisons, is the conviction of the best medical authorities.

   During a residence of over seventeen years in the State, I have not personally known more than one case of consumption that was contracted here. That one case was, however, the result of dissipation. One additional case has been reported by Dr. Livingston, of Plattsmouth. Many, indeed, have died here of this disease, but, so far as I have learned the particulars of their cases, they all came into the State with the disease fastened on them, and here generally succumbed to it only because of a want of proper care and remedies. On the other hand, hundreds come here in the incipient stages of the disease and are cured by the climate alone.

   I have also known great numbers of asthmatic subjects to come here, and soon all symptoms of the disease disappeared. It is also suggestive of the character of the climate that horses with the heaves lose all traces of this disease when brought to Nebraska. Bronchitis also here readily yields to the influence of the climate. Inflammation of the lungs, when contracted, readily yields to treatment. A volume could easily be filled with cures wrought by this climate on this class of patients. Of course the climate cannot perform miracles. No one should expect to be cured here who is in the third stage of pulmonary disease. Sick ones who come for health should be sure to go where they can get rest and be provided with home comforts. When scarlet fever and measles appear, they are generally in their mild forms. They rarely appear as epidemics. As to typhus and cerebro-spinal fevers, they are comparatively rare. Physicians of eminence assure me that the mortality from these diseases in other States is comparatively much greater than here.

   The chief complaint that I have heard from citizens of Nebraska concerning its healthfulness is that it tends to produce rheumatism and nervous disorders. On diligent inquiry, however, I have almost invariably found that the great body of those complaining in this direction are such as have been insufficiently clothed during the colds of winter, or have exposed themselves to an extent or indulged in practices that would have produced these diseases in any climate. The tendency always is, in a new State, among the first energetic settlers, to great exposure. Many start for the West with barely enough to reach their destination. Often little is produced the first year on the homestead, and the old clothes are made to do duty the second year. Until the new homestead is fairly under cultivation (which sometimes takes several years), the new emigrant is often put to great straits for groceries and clothing. Of course, when the emigrant brings along money or stock to carry him over the first year, it need not be so, but thus far the majority have not been of this class. The circumstances, too, of a new country stimulate to great risks and enterprises. Men will often start off on long journeys, through sparsely settled districts, ford streams, and in many other ways subject themselves unnecessarily to flood and storm. The consequence is that the principal diseases in some sections and seasons have been rhumatism and nuralgia. And yet, with all these circumstances favorable to contracting rheumatism, statistics show that most of the States have more deaths from this cause than Nebraska.

   It has sometimes been objected that the extremes of temperature and of other conditions in Nebraska must be unfavorable to health. There is, however, a great difference between an extreme and a destructive climate. That Nebraska has no destructive climate is at once apparent from the great variety of its vegetable forms and the exuberance of its natural animal life. Extremes of climate up to a certain point, while they may be injurious, and even destructive to the weak individuals of a species, rather benefit the normally healthy and strong. There is a greater variety of animal and vegetable life in the extreme climate of Nebraska than in the more moderate and equitable climate of England. It even favors those gradual changes of specific characters that advance the grade of animal and vegetable life. Compare, for example, the extremes of climate in Massachusetts and Nebraska. In the former, a warm, mild day is frequently changed to a cold one by a moisture-laden wind suddenly blowing from the northeast. These winds, blowing there from the cold currents of the Atlantic, that come from the Labrador coast, chill the body to an extreme degree, and too often sow the seeds of consumption and other diseases which are the bane of that region. The character, therefore, of the northeast winds renders the climate there a partially destructive one. The northeast wind, on the contrary, in Nebraska, is dry in autumn and winter, and even in spring and summer until the June rains come. Then they become laden with the moisture of the already warmed-up waters of the Missouri and Platte. Our generally moist winds come from the Mexican Gulf, and are south and southwest, rather than north, east and northeast, as in Massachusetts. Our climate is, therefore, extreme without being destructive. Its health conditions are the reverse of those in the Eastern States. Our extremes can be compared to the Turkish bath, which stimulates into activity the functions of the body.

   Nearly every one who comes into the State feels a general quickening and elasticity of spirits. The appetite and digestion improve wonderfully. Mind and body are lifted up. All this occurs even with the execrably prepared food eaten in the most of the rural districts; for in most of the rural districts, hot biscuit, green with soda, is still the form of bread usually eaten. Now, this improvement in physical and mental condition cannot arise simply from change of locality. It must originate from our peculiarities of climate, I have myself felt in this State, as I have never felt it elsewhere, especially when camping out, far away from settlements and alone with nature and God, how luxurious existence was, and how pleasant life was intended to be. One needs but to go through the fever and ague stricken districts of other States, and then pass through the rural districts of Nebraska, to notice the contrasts between the sallow complexions found in the former region, and the hue of health and glow of spirits found here.

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