I am the editor of a small, regional journal called the Journal of the Entomological Society of British Columbia. Although it is a small journal – publishing a few papers and other items in a single issue each year – both the journal and the society that manages it have a deep history. The ESBC was founded in 1902, and the JESBC has been around in one form or another since 1906 when it was called the Bulletin of the British Columbia Entomological Society.
That deep history combined with the fact that we currently publish excellent peer-reviewed reports that are of particular interest to entomologists working in the Pacific Northwest are what induce me to expend considerable time and effort on its yearly production. Our journal has been, and currently is, run mainly on volunteer efforts. It has always truly been a labor of love.
The JESBC has recently shifted to being completely open access. We are indexed on a number of major abstracting services. And our web editor has been spearheading an incredible effort to get all of our archives online and all of our citations over the years cross-referenced. In other words, our journal has always continued to evolve with the times, and we are working to ensure that trend continues.
As old issues have come online, I have enjoyed dipping into them to read some of the reports from the past. So, in what I intend to be a regular occurrence on this blog, I’d like to highlight a few of the items that I’ve read and that I hope may interest some of you as well.
Recently I was sampling volume 7 (1915), back when the journal was called the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of British Columbia (yes, we’ve had a number of name changes over the years). In it there are a number of articles that discuss a major “locust” infestation in the southern interior of British Columbia. From the reports, the insects involved were seemingly the migratory grasshopper, Melanoplus sanguinipes (called Melanoplus affinis in these reports) and the red-legged grasshopper, Melanoplus femurrubrum. Some very cursory research on my part found no other mentions of the infestation on the internet, so these reports may be the only easily accessible documentation of that event.
Here are some of my thoughts on several relevant articles from that issue:
Ruhman, M. 1915. Insect-notes from the Okanagan 1914. Proc. Entomol. Soc. British Columbia 7:7-11. LINK
This article is a survey of all of the recorded insect pest outbreaks in the Okanagan (southern interior) of BC. Besides being a comprehensive list with some very interesting and sometimes rather extensive notes on a variety of insects, the author mentions the grasshopper infestation briefly as follows:
…(the grasshoppers) are certainly plentiful enough to be taken notice of. Mr. Ben Hoy reports on the 14th that he visited a small orchard surrounded with range land practically defoliated by grasshoppers (species not identified) in Kelowna.
Wilson, T. 1915. The outbreak of locusts of 1914. Proc. Entomol. Soc. British Columbia 7:41-42. LINK
This paper outlines the geographical extent of the infestation and begins by particularly condemning the practice of “clean cultivation” – that is, removal of all weeds and alternate crop plants from near orchards and between the rows of trees – as a major driver of damage to orchards. In other words, maintenance of an orchard monoculture and the removal of alternate host plants for the grasshoppers meant that the grasshoppers turned to the fruit trees for food. This is, of course, an agricultural lesson that needs to be taken to heart even today.
Wilson also spent some time explaining the natural history of these insects and then lists what he feels are major reasons for the infestation:
The first reason I advance was the abnormally hot and dry season we have experienced, even for the Dry Belt. This condition was most conducive to the spread of these sun-loving dry-country insects. Second, the influx of settlers and the consequent diminution of the natural food of the locusts. Thirdly too heavy grazing on the range, or perhaps, more correctly stated, injudicious grazing on the range, has done away with the food-plants and forced the locusts to places where they would obtain the requisite amount of nutrition.
This is an interesting analysis, and one that provides a great picture of what was going on in the region at the time in terms of climate, culture, and biology.
Taylor, L.E. 1915. Notes on birds likely to be of service in the destruction of grasshoppers in the Nicola Valley. Proc. Entomol. Soc. British Columbia 7:43-45. LINK
Taylor provides an extensive list of birds that were likely to be present in the region at the time and gives estimates for how important they might have been as predators on grasshoppers. Besides being a potentially useful checklist of birds in the Nicola Valley in 1914, Taylor also vaguely mentions resources that he used to develop his estimates. It would be interesting to be able to dig up these reports and compare them to what, if anything, is known today about diets of various bird species.
Gibson, A. 1915. The Kansas remedy for the control of locusts. Proc. Entomol. Soc. British Columbia 7:45. LINK
This report is, frankly, frightening. But it is also a good glimpse into pest management back in the early-1900s. In this article, Gibson proposes experimenting with the “Kansas remedy” for control of grasshoppers. The Kansas remedy was comprised of:
Bran, 20 lb.; Paris green, 1 lb.; molasses, 2 quarts; lemons, 3 fruits; water, 3.5 gallons.
Most of the ingredients are identifiable. But what is that Paris green stuff? Well, it’s copper(II) acetoarsenite. As you might imagine, copper and arsenic make for a very toxic brew. And, being heavy metals, a persistent, toxic brew to be precise. I’m personally not a big fan of pesticides unless absolutely necessary, but I can say that I’m glad that what we do use today is safer than this.
I’m also curious to know if this concoction was ever tried in parts of British Columbia. According to the short article it was used in parts of eastern Canada. A bit of digging shows that it was also at least tested, if not used, elsewhere. If the areas that in which was used could be identified today, it would be interesting to survey longterm effects on biodiversity of heavy metals used in agricultural settings.
Besides being an interesting glimpse into the past, these articles demonstrate the value of a longstanding, regional journal to the practice of science. I think that it is fair to say that without this journal (and others like it) reports like these would either never have been recorded in the first place or would have been buried in files somewhere and lost to contemporary analysis.
From these articles we learn that there was a substantial and damaging grasshopper infestation in the BC’s southern interior around 1914. We read some statements on the climatic conditions and the agricultural practices at the time that were thought to be partially responsible for driving this infestation. We are given a number of interesting natural history observations. We receive what amounts to a checklist of some birds in the region at that time (attention ornithologists!). And we are told about cultural and (sort of scary) chemical methods that were being proposed as pest management methods.
The JESBC, and other journals like it, are full of this type of information. Contemporary archiving, indexing, optical character recognition, cross referencing, and other means of resurrecting this literature are adding value to these fantastic resources. I imagine the value will continue to increase as imaginative people find new ways to sort through this kind of data.
In the meantime, we all now have the opportunity to use our own grey matter-based “technology” to learn from the past. I hope that as I pull out a few of these reports to highlight on this blog over the coming months you’ll also take some time to find some items that interest you.
If bump into anything interesting, feel free to share your finds here in the comments or on Twitter.
Update (12 November 2013): Chris MacQuarrie pointed this out on Twitter:
— Chris MacQuarrie (@CMacQuar) November 12, 2013
Indeed, that is the case. Here is some more information on Norman Criddle and his mixture. Also of interest in that link is the mention of the Rocky Mountain locust, a once prominent species that ended up on the same tragic trajectory followed by the passenger pigeon and (very nearly) the plains bison.