Seeking biggest, most destructive, animal and insect swarms in history
October 1, 2015 7:43 AM   Subscribe

So I'm trying to find the biggest historical accounts of animal and insect swarms/herds in history. I've been googling by species but decade and by general terms like swarm, infestation, herd, stampede and so far I've only found a few of the more recent ones. So a) if you know any, please tell me more about them and b) what's the best way to find these historical accounts? Even if they're just one or two lines.

I'm looking for the time that 100 tigers invaded an Indian village. When a termite infestation destroyed a city block. When that giant black cloud was bees or ravens and it came with a bodycount. I want - ideally - some destruction and impact.
posted by rileyray3000 to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You might be interested in reading about Australia's furry little problem.

The horror.
posted by phunniemee at 7:56 AM on October 1, 2015

The emus won The Emu War.

If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world. ... They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:04 AM on October 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

African locust birds that flock in the millions and strip farmers' fields bare, which the locals deal with by waiting for them to stop and nest in trees, then setting explosives and gasoline canisters at the bases of the trees and blowing up the entire forest. Not the greatest for the environment I'm sure; but the twelve-year-old in me totally wants to do it.

Probably doesn't quite count because they're not natural swarms, but there are war pigs, Olga of Kiev's destruction of her enemies with incendiary pigeons, and other military uses of animals.
posted by XMLicious at 8:15 AM on October 1, 2015

When The Skies Turned To Black: The Locust Plague of 1875 (or 1874, depending on who you're asking).
posted by divined by radio at 8:44 AM on October 1, 2015

Summed up wonderfully in "On the Banks of Plum Creek."
posted by Melismata at 9:04 AM on October 1, 2015 [7 favorites]

Passenger pigeons lived in colonies spanning hundreds of square miles. There are accounts of migrating flocks darkening the sky "as by an eclipse" for days at a time.
posted by penguinicity at 9:06 AM on October 1, 2015

The cricket/katydid plague on the newly-founded Salt Lake City.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:25 AM on October 1, 2015

Check out the works of Charles Fort. They're of dubious historical reliability, but they certainly will give you some directions to go in.
posted by thetortoise at 10:33 AM on October 1, 2015

Does the Bible count? I heard there were some pretty bad swarms in Egypt...

Also see the Four Pests Campaign, which itself wasn't a swarm but produced one.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 2:20 PM on October 1, 2015

Would periodical cicadas qualify? They live underground for 13 or 17 years before surfacing to mate.
posted by redindiaink at 9:24 PM on October 1, 2015

I came to mention the 1870s locust plague, which was so big it is impossible for me to imagine. Fortunately we managed to till the soil in Nebraska (iirc) where these critters laid eggs and thus avoided a repeat.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:23 AM on October 2, 2015

Not historical, bust still interesting - a swarm of grasshoppers so large it showed up on weather radar.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:18 AM on October 7, 2015

> Passenger pigeons lived in colonies spanning hundreds of square miles.
> There are accounts of migrating flocks darkening the sky "as by an eclipse" for days at a time.

Not to mention the free fertilizer and bug control.

If they didn't exist, we'd have to ... um ....

posted by hank at 8:19 AM on October 8, 2015

Large carnivores generally don't "swarm", but they can be plenty deadly:
  • The Tsavo Lions (two of them) are reputed to have killed over 100 railroad workers over a nine-month period.
  • The Champawat Tiger is reputed to have killed over 400 people over several years. She started out in Nepal, and managed to evade the Nepalese Army by moving to India.
I've got a copy of this book at home, and I'll see if I can find anything else of interest in it tonight if I think of it.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:39 AM on October 8, 2015

Having checked the book, I didn't find anything with a body count. But if you want property destruction and disruption of people's lives, you can't do much better than army ants & driver ants. From the above book:
The army ants of the New World and the Driver Ants of Africa are much feared, and gruesome and improbable stories of their forays are endless. The African forms are reputed to be lethal; literally consuming everything in their path as they emigrate from one breeding ground to another. It is easy to see how humans could be consumed if overrun and borne down by hundreds of thousands of these biting insects but I have been unable to obtain any document evidence of this having occurred. In South America, the appearance of a column of Army Ants is reputedly welcomed by the natives, who evacuate the area temporarily and then return home to homes free of vermin. ... It seems likely that a wounded hunter, an abandoned child, a feeble old-timer (or an enemy staked out for the purpose!) must, from time to time, have fallen victim somewhere along the line.
There's also a memorable (if fictional) scene along these lines in the novel The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:32 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Madagascar is having a multiyear locust plague.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:25 PM on October 11, 2015

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