The last great locust plague in Tenerife

It happened 60 years ago when one of the most fatal episodes of the 20th Century occurred in the Canarian countryside.

The last great locust plague devastated crops and caused huge losses for farmers of the Archipelago on October 16, 1958. It was then that a gigantic balls of insects from the African continent, pushed by the warm winds, surprised the inhabitants. They came as dense red clouds that moved over the sea and when they reached the ground they started flying in all directions. There were so many Orthoptera (the technical word for locust) that it is said the sun was hidden due to the numbers.

The south of Tenerife was the most affected, mainly in the municipalities of Arico, Fasnia, Granadilla de Abona and the Valley of Güímar, where plantations of tomatoes, potatoes and to a lesser extent banana trees (due to the conditions of the leaf of the tree and its fruit) were devastated although serious damages were also registered in Anaga.

Agricultural workers and their neighbours resorted to rudimentary methods to fight the plague: bonfires to generate lots of smoke; noise to try to frighten the successive waves insects away and poison that had to be sprinkled by hand.

On the sixth day of the plague, two small planes arrived, sent by the Ministry of Agriculture, which acted mainly on the slopes of the Güímar Valley, where an all-out war was being waged against an enemy that seemed to be reproducing with the passing of each day. The aerial fumigation intensified with an average of 15 daily flights from Los Rodeos and with the help of the residents of Güímar an emergency runway in El Socorro was made to shortened the time frame between flights.

Reports at the time say that in the coastal strip between Candelaria and Granadilla de Abona, flotillas of fishing boats provided with nets and pandorgas (kites) attacked the predatory clouds. In El Medano, thousands of dead lobsters end up on the beaches and it took 30 trucks to remove them and the streets became carpets of insects that crunched under foot or in the path of cars.

The plague was fought with rudimentary methods.Dead lobsters on the beach of El Medano. RTVE file

The image of the insects, between 5 and 7 centimetres long and of yellowish and reddish grey colour survives in the memory of the elderly who saw the unusual scene.

The news went around Spain via No-Do, the audiovisual information service of the Franco regime and a documentary shows the aerial fumigation from the planes, the visit to the south of Tenerife by the civil governor of the province, and the mountains of dead insects along the coast of El Médano.

After more than 20 days of intense extinction work, a change in the direction of the winds, which brought a drop in temperatures, and above all, the appearance of the first autumn rains ended the reign of the most damaging pest in Tenerife.

Four years earlier in 1954 another large swarm of locusts from Morocco destroyed more than 10,000 hectares of crops in the Islands, causing losses valued at more than 135 million pesetas.

Source JUAN CARLOS MATEU in Diario de Avisos

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2 Responses to The last great locust plague in Tenerife

  1. Fascinating information and poor farmers!
    The first time I took two women friends to our apartment I proudly showed them round then onto the balcony. There it was: a ginormous creature clinging to our wall! We screamed and retreated. A friend peeped out half an hour later and it had gone. Of all the patios in all the world it had to…..

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