#Lookback: Grasshopper Glaciers

    A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

    There are three glaciers in Wyoming and Montana with the name Grasshopper Glacier.  They were so named because of the thousands of tons of locust remains found entombed in the ice.  One of these glaciers is in the Dinwoody Glacier complex, and one is close to Cooke City, Montana. The species of locust found in these glaciers is now extinct. 

    The Rocky Mountain Locust, Melanoplus spretus, did a tremendous amount of damage to agriculture in the high plains in the 1860s and 1870s.  Locust swarms were cyclical. During years of drought the locusts would form swarms with ravenous appetites; they would eat crops, curtains, ropes, clothing, wallpaper and even the wool off of the sheep.  The locusts also cannibalize each other. They left near total destruction in their wake. A farmer quipped, “They ate everything but the mortgage.”   One swarm blotted out the sun for six hours.

    In 1875, Albert Child recorded a swarm a mile high that passed over Plattsmouth, Nebraska for five days straight. Albert was in the signal corp, so he telegraphed other communities and estimated the swarm was 110 miles wide and 1,800 miles long. It became known as “Albert’s Swarm,” and was the “greatest concentration of animals ever” in recorded history according to the Guiness Book of World Records. It was estimated that “Albert’s Swarm” contained 12.5 trillion locusts, but within three decades the Rocky Mountain locust was extinct. The last one was seen alive in 1902 in Canada.

    There are several theories as to why the Rocky Mountain Locust became extinct.  One theory points to the diminishing number of the buffalo on the high plains.  The ecosystem changed as a result, and more land was put under the plow.  Plowing is known to destroy the locusts’ eggs. Another theory points to climate change that happened at the end of a cold spell known as the Little Ice Age from about 1300 to 1850.  A third theory suggests an unknown pathogen infected the locusts.

    A team of scientists under the supervision of Dr. Jeffrey Lockwood explored the Grasshopper Glaciers for several years looking to recover some carcasses of the now extinct locust.  They found only ground up pieces of the grasshoppers in the ice and in the morainal run-off caused by the rapidly increasing glacier melt.  In 1994, they heard about locust remains on Knife Point Glacier in the Wind Rivers. About 10 inches deep in Knife Point glacier they found intact locusts.  When the remains were radiocarbon dated the results showed the locusts had died at the end of the Middle Ages, about 1400. 

    So, how did these locusts end up in the glaciers?  As swarms flew over the glacier, perhaps they encountered a snow storm or a cold front that made tons of them fall from the sky and become embedded and preserved in the ice. This happened many, many times in the life of the glaciers.

    Author: Liz Farmer

    Next up for the Fremont County Museum

    April 20, 9-2pm “Pioneer Museum Garden Expo-Historic Plant Booth” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

    April 25, 7pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Lander in 1924” Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

    April 27, 1-3pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Sheep Shearing Day” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

    May 2, 6:30pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary” Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

    May 7, 9am at the Pioneer Museum, “Kids Music Program” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

    Call the Dubois Museum 1-307-455-2284, the Pioneer Museum 1-307-332-3339 or the Riverton Museum 1-307-856-2665 for detail regarding their programs.

    Photo: Hikers on a Wind River Range glacier circa 1930.

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