16 of the Most Horrifying Bug Infestations in History
16 of the Most Horrifying Bug Infestations in History

16 of the Most Horrifying Bug Infestations in History

Trista - April 5, 2019

16 of the Most Horrifying Bug Infestations in History
An illustration of Phylloxera. Wikipedia.

7. A Tiny Bug Devastated France’s Wine Industry

Lest you think the United States is the only victim of invasive insect species, let’s turn our attention to Phylloxera, a tiny aphid-like insect that was accidentally introduced to France from the United States. Our bad, guys.

Phylloxera have a complicated life cycle, many stages of which can greatly harm the vines they use for reproduction, food, and shelter. They lay eggs in the roots and stalks of vining plants, suck the sap out of the plants, and can also cause fungal infections in the rootstock. This combination of various assaults absolutely ravaged European grape production, as none of the European varieties had any natural resistance to the invasive New World insect.

It is estimated that as many as two-thirds of all grape vines in Western Europe were destroyed in the decade following the accidental introduction of the pest. European wine making saw a similarly drastic dip. A great deal of research went into grafting and cultivating grape stock that was hardier and resistant to the insect, as it could not be eradicated.

16 of the Most Horrifying Bug Infestations in History
A body louse. Wikipedia.

6. The Lice That Stopped Napoleon

We all likely know by now that attempting to conquer Russia in winter is a profoundly bad idea that just does not pan out for the invading armies. However, in the case of Napoleon Bonaparte, it was not only the cold that stopped his troops in their tracks.

Napoleon’s troops wanted to travel light, so they did not bring along changes of uniform or even underclothes. They wore the same uniform day after day, often without bathing. While gross and undoubtedly bad for morale, this also had the disastrous effect of allowing body lice to run rampant throughout his troops.

Body lice carry numerous diseases, including trench fever, relapsing fever, and epidemic typhus, and Napoleon soon found himself with forces that were greatly weakened, not only by the cold climate of Russia in winter, but by the body lice wounds and subsequent diseases brought about by their own short-sighted packing and lack of bathing. Combined with malnutrition from light rations and the bitter cold, it’s no doubt that his troops were in no condition to conquer a vast landmass. Still, being vanquished by a body louse is an awful way to lose a war…

16 of the Most Horrifying Bug Infestations in History
A scorpion. Odyssey.

5. Bug Warfare

As comical as it might sound to modern readers, insects actually have been used as weapons dating as far back as Ancient Greece. There are countless stories of hives of wasps and bees shaken and thrown over an enemies walls to help break sieges. While this may seem like something out of a skit, imagine how you’d feel trying to withstand a siege while being stuck by dozens of bees!

There are also stories of giving baskets full of venomous scorpions to enemies, which is as terrifying as it is poetic and creative. This method of insult (or murder) seems as though it would be at home on the pages of one of the great Greek tragedies.

In a more serious and malign iteration, Japanese force in World War II invested a great deal of time, money and energy into attempts to weaponize plague fleas in order to cause plague epidemics among allied soldiers. They loaded plague fleas into clay bombs, which they tested on some remote areas in China. Those areas did sustain small plague outbreaks, but the Japanese forces never achieved the level of contagiousness or lethality that they required for an effective weapon.

16 of the Most Horrifying Bug Infestations in History
A Mormon cricket. Flickr.

4. Mormon Crickets Increase Their Infestations

Mormon crickets are named after the Mormon settlers that settled expanses of America’s West. The bugs average in at three inches in length and descend upon areas of Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and Wyoming, usually every other year. Out-of-control swarms can devour crops, leading to substantial economic damage in the farm communities of the West. The gross factor increases exponentially when their dead carcasses pile up in roads, creating slicks that lead to car crashes. When crushed, the bugs are extraordinarily juicy, so roads and sidewalks coated with their carcasses can become as slick as ice.

While the crickets have troubled settlers for centuries, beginning in 2000, the biannual infestations became more regular, hitting the states every year with increasing intensity. In some places, Mormon cricket swarms were so dense that there were as many as 70 per square yard. Populations that high can destroy anything in their paths, decimating large farms within minutes. Being affected by crowds of Mormon crickets is just a fact of life for many in the affected areas, something that they have to get used to since they live in the region. However, it isn’t all bad news for those who can get past the gross factor: the giant bugs are known by the locals to be great for catching catfish.

16 of the Most Horrifying Bug Infestations in History
An Africanized bee. Flickr.

3. In 1985, Africanized Bees Arrived in Texas

Africanized bees, also known as killer bees, are a hybrid species that was created in Brazil in the 1950s to increase honey production. As happens all too often when plants and animals are used as science experiments, a group of the bees escaped their quarantine and began to build colonies throughout South America and into North America. Few people are actually stung to death by killer bees – usually only about one person per year in the United States – and even that number is almost always because the victim antagonized them. However, they are dangerous, as people found in 1985 when the bees were located in Texas.

Killer bees are known to attack anything that they believe is threatening the hive. They can chase people and animals for as much as a quarter of a mile, and when they travel as a swarm, they can overwhelm the victim by delivering thousands of bites. As many as 1000 people worldwide have died as a result of being attacked by hordes of killer bees. Since they first arrived in the United States in 1985, they have spread northward. Today, killer bees can be found all across the continental United States. Efforts to control and thwart their spread have been met with varying degrees of success.

16 of the Most Horrifying Bug Infestations in History
A mosquito. Texas Monthly.

2. 1980 Vampire Swarm of Mosquitoes Devastate Texas Farms

Texas is one of those states that is both blessed and cursed by its geography. Its massive land size and natural resources make it a producer of many products and goods that are used by people in America. Its long coastline that borders the Gulf of Mexico makes it prime real estate for hurricanes. When these massive storms find their way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, the warm gulf waters cause them to intensify dramatically. When they make landfall, they can be catastrophic, bringing not only heavy wind and storm surges but also flooding.

When flat places like Texas flood, the water isn’t usually able to drain quickly; in the meantime, mosquitoes have a perfect environment for laying eggs, which can cause swarms of Biblical proportions. This is precisely what happened in August of 1980, following widespread flooding brought by Hurricane Allen. Billions of mosquito eggs hatched and swarmed local farms with such force that they drained the blood from cattle and horses. An estimated four million bites were required to kill each animal, an average of 5,300 bites per minute for 12 hours straight. The infestation lasted for weeks before it finally subsided.

16 of the Most Horrifying Bug Infestations in History
A volcanic snake. Flickr.

1. 1902 Volcanic Eruption Brings Apocalypse of Snakes

People who live on or near dormant volcanoes don’t tend to take the sleeping giant on their doorstep seriously. When the cataclysmic eruption comes, people tend to be entirely caught off guard, despite warnings in the forms of tremors, smoke plumes, and mini explosions. These eruptions tend to be so dangerous because historically, people tend to remain in their homes rather than flee to safety. That’s what happened when Mount Pelee, on the French island of Martinique, blew its gasket in 1902. The eruption was violent and caused massive damage. Out of a population of approximately 28,000 people, only two are known to have survived.

Before its eruption, Mount Pelee gave plenty of warning. Tremors and ash clouds in the days and weeks before the explosion caused a plague of pests to swarm villages and towns. The repertoire of pests included foot-long millipedes and colonies of red ants that bit people and animals incessantly. Moreover, with the pests came snakes. Hordes of poisonous snakes descended on Martinique in April 1902. At least 50 people and 200 animals died because of venomous bites. Those that survived the plague of snakes fell prey to the ensuing eruption, except for the two people that are known to have survived.

 

Where did we get this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Mt. Pelee Eruption (1902).” How Volcanoes Work.

“Georgis Parasitology for Veterinarians,” by Dwight D. Bowman. Elsevier Sanders. 2014.

“Africanized Bees.” Wikipedia.

“Invasion of Mormon crickets: Idaho hit with record-breaking swarms of insects,” by Associated Press. Daily Mail. July 13, 2017.

“Attack of the slimy caterpillar web.” Metrowebukmetro. May 26, 2009.

“Huge Numbers of Crickets are Invading Oklahoma,” by Pamela Engel. Business Insider. September 5, 2013.

“Cicada.” Wikipedia.

“Grasshopper Swarms So Dense They Show Up On Radar,” by Dina Abou Salem.” ABC News. June 2, 2014.

“Houston braces for invasion of ‘Crazy Ants.'” Fox News. October 21, 2015.

“We’ve Identified Those Bugs Infesting Burning Man, And It’s Not Pretty,” by Annalee Newitz. Gizmodo. August 20, 2015.

“Aggressive Mosquitoes Bugging LGA Airport Workers Since Construction Began,” by Katie Honan. DNA Info. May 31, 2017.

“The Bugs That Changed Human History” by Mary Beth Griggs. Popular Mechanics. July 13, 2011.

“The Bugs That Bugged the Colonists” by David Robinson. Colonial Williamsburg Journal. Autumn 2007.

Advertisement