Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Army Worm - A 19th Century Account of Infestations & How to Combat the Army Worm

THE ARMY WORM, Mark Vernon Slingerland, Bulletin 133. April, 1897. Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station.


"Apparently the native home of the army-worm is in North America, although it is known to occur in England, South America, India, Java, Maderia, Australia and New Zealand, thus making it nearly a cosmopolitan insect. However, it is known as an especially injurious insect only in the United States, east of the Rocky Mountains and in Canada. '' The region in which it especially flourishes extends from Iowa to Maine and from Texas to Alabama. East of the Blue Ridge Mountains its southerly range as an injurious species extends to North Carolina. The moth is often captured outside these limits and frequently in considerable numbers, but the caterpillar does not seem elsewhere to be a factor in agriculture.""

"1743 is always mentioned as the first army-worm year of which we have pretty definite proof. Perhaps it was the army-worm that appeared by the millions in Massachusetts in 1762 and ate up the corn. Graphic and definite accounts have been recorded of the ravages of the insect in New England in 1770 and 1790. The next army-worm year was in 1817, and since 1825 the insect has appeared in injurious numbers somewhere in the United States almost every year; but rarely, if ever, has the insect been destructive in the same locality in two successive years."

"The army-worm was known in the early chronicles as "the black worm;" just when it came to be known as "the army worm" we have not ascertained. Sometime in the latter part of the eighteenth century, a specimen of the adult insect—the moth, found its way into the then celebrated collection of a Mr. Francillon in London. Upon the breaking up and sale of that collection early in this century, this moth passed into the possession of a Mr. Haworth, who published a description of it in 1810; he named it unipunda, the white speck."

"It is a curious fact that no one seems to have discovered what the parents of the army-worms were like until 1855, when Mr. Kirkpatrick reared some of the moths in Ohio. It was not until 1861 that Dr. Fitch, then State Entomologist of New York, identified the army-worm moth as the same insect which had been described in England fifty years before."


During the spring and summer of 1896, the army-worm appeared in destructive numbers in portions of ten states, constituting what is probably the most serious outbreak of the pest known in the history of the country. In some states most of the damage was done in May, but usually it was the July brood which appeared in almost incredible numbers; in a few localities, however, it was not until September that the pest was seen in injurious numbers.

Nearly all kinds of field crops were ravaged by the caterpillars. Corn and oats seem to have suffered the most; there is no data upon which to base any definite estimates, but one may safely say that thousands of acres of these two crops alone were ruined by the worms in New York. In many localities, rye, barley, wheat, millet, meadows, pasture lands, and Hungarian grass suffered.

To fully realize the destructive capabilities of the insect one must see, no description will suffice, an army of the worms on the march and at work. In most cases, the caterpillars in each of these armies must have been numbered by the millions; even an approximate estimate of the number of worms in a single army would have been impracticable. Oftentimes when an army was marching across a lane or roadway, nearly the entire surface of the ground for several rods would be covered with the crawling mass of worms; one could not step without crushing several of them.

They soon strip all the leaves from the stalks of oats, rye, and similar plants, and often cut off many of the heads, leaving them uneaten on the ground. In one instance, a barn loomed up before the worms directly in their line of march, but nothing daunted, many of them valiantly scaled the perpendicular wall and soon succeeded in getting over the eaves onto the roof. Here, however, they met their Waterloo, either from the exposure on the heated shingles to the sun's rays or from other causes, and a windrow of dead worms was formed under the eaves.


". . . However, the worms can be prevented from entering other fields, and may, in many cases, be checked and killed even after they have entered a new field; in some cases, especially in corn fields, an advancing army may be stopped in the middle of the field and thus half of the crop saved. The simplest and most effectual method of doing this is to either dig a smooth-walled ditch, or plow several deep parallel furrows in front of the invading army; the perpendicular, smooth side of the plowed furrow should be towards the field to be protected. The worms not being readily able to scale the perpendicular wall of the ditch or furrow will drop back and begin crawling along the bottom seeking an easier place of ascent."

"If deep holes have been dug in the ditch or furrow at intervals of a few feet, the worms, in their wanderings, readily tumble into these holes and cannot get out. Bushels of them have been trapped in this way, and then killed with a little kerosene or by burning some straw scattered along the furrow. The holes or pits in the furrows are very essential to the success of this preventive method. It has been aptly said: "To one who has never before seen the army worm in its might, the sight of the myriads as they returned thwarted in their endeavors to cross a ditch or furrow, or of the living, moving, and twisting mass which sometimes fills a ditch to the depth of several inches, it is truly interesting." "

"In some soils a little extra work will be necessary to keep one side of the furrow perpendicular and to keep the earth loose and friable in the furrow; some accomplish the latter by dragging brush along the furrow. A ditch or several furrows well taken care of in this way will afford an almost impassable barrier to the worms, as many, who followed the directions carefully last year, can testify. It is such an easy matter to make a furrow and as one is not so effectual a barrier as a ditch, we advise that two or more parallel furrows be made, so that the worms which may scale the first one will be confronted by another."

"A strip of coal tar will effectually stop the worms as long as it remains sticky, but it has to be renewed once or twice a day and is thus expensive."

"When the worms can be confined to a small area by a ditch, it may be practicable to spray this area with a strong Paris green mixture to poison the worms. Sometimes much can be done to lessen their numbers by drenching with Paris green a narrow strip of the crop on the side toward which the army of the worms are marching, or even a strip just ahead of the worms in an infested field. A bran mash, to which enough Paris green has been added to give it a distinct greenish tinge, scattered about where the worms are at work will attract and poison many of them."

"In fighting army-worms, it is necessary to act quickly, for a day's delay often means the destruction of an acre or more of a promising rye, corn, oat, or hay crop. Stop the onward progress of the worms, or confine them in a limited area if practicable, with ditches or deep furrows in which holes have been dug every 10 or 15 feet. Then kill as many of the worms as possible, either in the holes in the furrows, or by the use of poisons, or invite the poultry to a feast."
European Whitestorks feeding on Army Worms, Soysambu Conservancy,

"What a feast many of the birds, including chickens and turkeys, had last year in those localities where the army-worm was numerous. On July 23d, Mr. L. T.Yeomans, of Walworth, N. Y., wrote us: "We think we have disposed of the greater share of our army-worms. The birds were our greatest helpers. They came in flocks—blackbirds, thrushes, and even the English sparrow condescended to help."

"Mr. F. A. Sirrine, of the New York Experiment Station staff, has reported that in addition to the birds just mentioned, the cowbird, catbird, robin and the lark were seen feeding on the worms at Washingtonville, N. Y. He states: "It was at first doubted whether the sparrows were in the oat field on a legitimate errand, but close observation showed that each old bird was carrying from one to four worms to its young."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Predicting Rain - Popular Weather Sayings in the 19th Century

An enormous rainbow was in the sky from the Northeast to the Southeast yesterday evening, and it rained and thundered just to the Northwest - nary a drop fell on this sandy hill...........

"THE chief signal officer at Washington is seeking material for a collection of popular weather sayings, proverbs, and prognostics used throughout the country . . .  The writer does not vouch for the correctness of the prognostics. He gives them as they were given to him, and the reader may judge for himself as to their value. The divisions made by the chief signal officer are twenty-three in number." 
The Chief Signal Officer in D.C. collecting weather sayings?!  Here are a few of the 23 presented in Ballou's Monthly  Magazine, 1890 , and of course the very last one is the truest old saying of all :

**When there is a rainbow in the morning, there will be rain soon. When there is a rainbow at night, it will not rain the next day.
"A rainbow in the morning
Is the sailor's warning;
A rainbow at night
Is the sailor's delight."  

**A halo around the sun indicates that there will be rain or snow soon. If the sun rises clear and soon goes into a cloud, it will rain before night. If the sun shines while it rains, it will rain the next day. A sun dog, or mock sun, indicates that there will be stormy weather very soon.

**When in the morning you see the ground covered with webs covered with dew and dew on the ground around, it is a sign of rain before night, for the spiders are putting out umbrellas. But others say, " When the spiders put out their sunshades, it will be a hot day."

**If bats fly low and come into the house; if cattle lie down in the morning and chew the cud; if horses toss their heads, sniff, and are very uneasy; if rats and mice are restless and squeak; if swine are uneasy, grunt loudly, and squeal; if cats and dogs eat grass and sheep spring about more than usual. So also the proverbs:—
"When the ass begins to bray,
We surely shall have rain that day."
"When the donkey blows his horn,
'Tis time to house your hay and corn." 

**"All signs fail in a dry time."

Summer Born British White calves - Holding up Fairly Well in August 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

"In Texas the Drought now Extends from the Western Grazing Country Eastward to Louisiana"

I could almost imagine in the beginning of the article below that the writer was talking about the current Texas drought, that has indeed extended eastward to Louisiana. For certain, I find some degree of hopefulness in the future after reading about droughts of old that eventually corrected themselves. I know it will happen logically, but it is easy to start thinking it may never end! This old article is also a bit instructive of what conditions could be in Texas next Spring, if indeed we have no more rain.

I also found a very informative article on the Texas drought of 1984. I actually had no idea there had been one, but I wasn't much focused on rainfall in 1984. The drought of 1984 was severe and had devastating and long lasting consequences. Read "Dust to Dust", published in the Texas Monthly, October 1984, for an eye-opening hard truth in both words and photos of just how bad drought can be to a livestock producer.

The following weather observations are excerpts from:
Monthly Weather Review - By United States Army Signal Corps, United States, April 1887
J.West's S.S. Carter, (See Video clip)
Standing over a Water Leak to get Cool, August 2011

DROUGHT: "Although rain accompanied the area of low that crossed Texas, the Indian Territory, and Kansas on the 18th, yet at the end of the month the long drought was practically unbroken, except in Kansas, where the rainfall of the 18th was quite heavy. In Texas the drought now extends from the western grazing country eastward to Louisiana, but decreases in severity as it approaches the eastern boundary. In central and eastern Texas, embracing the principal cotton-growing counties of the state, only a few light showers have fallen during the mouth."

The following notes are from observers:

"At San Antonio, Tex., although light rain fell on the 4th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th, and 16th, the total precipitation of the month was only 0.60 of an inch. Reports from adjoining counties indicate that their condition is even worse than the country immediately adjacent to San Antonio. The observer states that the dry grass from last year is exhausted, and as none has grown this spring the only forage for cattle is the prickly pear. Stock are dying rapidly. Numbers of families have deserted their homes and farms in search of a more favored locality. All hope of making the usual grain crop this season has been abandoned."

"New Ulm, Austin Co., Texas.: all interests are suffering from the drought; cattle are in need of grass and water; corn and cotton are in bad condition and will have to be replanted if rain falls. The normal April rainfall for this section, as deduced from the observations of the past fifteen years, is 3.84 inches; the total of the current month is only 0.17 inch, and is the least that has fallen in any April during that time. The normal rainfall of the seven months ending April 30th is 31.70 inches; the total amount of the corresponding months in 1880-'87 is 7.92, a deficiency of 23.78 inches. In 1873 eight inches of rain fell in April."

"Belleville, Republic Co., Kansas.: the first seventeen days of the month were remarkable for dry weather and the frequency and force of dust storms. On the 3rd and 9th, during wind storms, dust filled the air to such an extent that buildings one hundred feet distant were visible only at intervals.  Independence, Montgomery Co., Kansas.: the first heavy rain in this section since September 4, 1886, fell on the 16th and 17th. On the 3rd, during a wind storm, the sky was obscured by dust."
"Salina, Salina Co., Kansas.: the month has been unusually dry, the total precipitation, 2.06 inches, being the least that has fallen in any April during the past five years."

"Grand Coteau, Saint Landry Parish, La.: the total amount of rainfall for the five months from December, 1880, to April, 1887, inclusive, 12.20 inches, is less than one-half of the normal amount; the soil is dry and crops late."
"Tucson, Arizona.: cattle are dying in large numbers from want of water and food; the Rillito River is dry for the first time in many years."
J.West's Bountiful Brigit
 Having a Drink from the Sprinkler,  August 2011

 "It should be noted that the period of observation is not sufficient to enable a perfectly satisfactory deduction, but it is plain that there has been a marked increase in precipitation during the last twenty years. The apparent falling off in the last five years is not unexpected, and does not indicate a permanent diminution, as it is mostly due to the small amount in 1886, and there have been four annual records previously, with a greater falling off than in 1886. We may conclude that the scarcity of rainfall in 1886 is not unprecedented, and that from past observations there is no proof of a permanent diminution in precipitation. Many more years' observations will be needed to establish a marked secular variation."

Well, there certainly have been many more years of observation, about 125 years of observation and recording of weather in the USA.  This 1887 writer was no doubt right -- the scarcity of rainfall was not unprecedented -- and there was no permanent diminution in rainfall.  Of course, a climate change fanatic or global warming guru might point to the increase in numbers of methane belching cattle in the prairies of Texas, Louisiana and the Indian Territory as the primary culprit of the 1886/1887 drought -- and claim it was without precedence, and the humble bovine has been bringing on brutal heat waves in Texas ever since!