Bob’s grasshopper counting is grounded

Bob's grasshopper counting is grounded by Bob Karolevitz I read somewhere that you are supposed to count the grasshoppers in a nine-foot square plot to see if there are enough of them to indicate a serious infestation.

Because I remembered the hordes of the crop-destroying insects in the Dirty Thirties � and because I was a conscientious almost-farmer � I made plans to take the 'hopper census as the article advised. Like the situation in Iraq, however, I hadn't thought far enough ahead to know what I would do if the totals constituted a plague.

"We should mark off the required dimension in the feedlot where lots of insects seem to be feeding," I said to Phyllis in a most husbandly tone. "Then we'll determine how many of the leaf-nibbling bugs are there."

"Oh no WE won't," countered my wife. "You can count all the grasshoppers you want. I'm going in the house where there are no mosquitoes."

And so I trudged off alone, stepped off the square yard plot and began the enumeration. Only it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be.

The grasshoppers wouldn't stay put. They jumped around incessantly, flitting in and out of the designated area, making it impossible to get accurate numbers. It was worse than counting a penful of sheep.

I finally gave up. Plague or no plague, the 'hoppers could grow fat � and see if I cared.

At least it wasn't as bad as the 1930s when they were so thick they ate the wash on the line and gobbled up paint on houses and barns.

The voracious leaper � which had helped chase many of the region's homesteaders back to the security of less challenging eastern states � took advantage of the good hatching weather and undisturbed egg deposits in abandoned fields to build up its numbers to destructive proportions.

On many farms what crops the searing sun didn't take, the grasshoppers devoured. Huge swarms migrated across the state, and in addition to their insatiable appetites, they became one more distasteful symbol of an unhappy era.

Even those of us in town were affected. Grasshoppers piled up under street lights and store windows. The drive-wheels of locomotives couldn't get traction on railroad tracks greased down by thousands of squashed bugs. The hard-topped roads were made slippery by the crushed bodies.

Phyllis remembers when her dad put out government-provided poisoned bran in a desperate effort to save his corn. State entymologists thought the concoction would work; they apparently hadn't counted on the toll it would take of song birds, pheasants and other wildlife.

I also recall using grasshoppers for bait when fishing worms were hard to find. I didn't catch much that way either. They spit up what we called "tobacco juice" when I put them on the hook. I didn't know then that it was chewed-up food which they regurgitated when disturbed.

Incidentally, I got that bit of information out of my search engine (called an encyclopedia). I also learned that if a man could jump like a grasshopper, he could bound along in 40-foot leaps.

I suppose that would be all right for some guys who don't mind heights, but I like both feet on the ground, thank you!

© 2003 Robert F. Karolevitz

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