Certain kinds of grasshoppers with short horns are given the term “locust.” Environmental circumstances are optimum, resulting in their swarming behavior. Since biblical times, locust plagues have devastated crops and farmland, destroying any green growth in their path.
Depending on where in the world you are, the term “locust” is used colloquially to refer to several animals. The cicada, a distinct species of bug that emerges from the ground and is noted for making loud noises in the trees, is sometimes referred to as locust.
What is a Locust?
In the late afternoon, the cicadas are a-buzzing in the trees, signaling it’s the second half of summer. “Oh,” said the neighbor when I brought it up. I answered, “Well, yes and no.” referring to the locusts. It’s a bit more complicated than that.
Unfortunately, the general public is confused by the term “locust,” which refers to two distinct insect species. A kind of migratory grasshopper that forms huge and devastating, crop-eating populations is known as “locusts” in religious texts and in African plagues. Prairie, meadow, and common grasshoppers found in Iowa crops, gardens, and road sides are not the same as this.
The annual cicadas are known in the eastern United States as “locusts.” The scissor-grinder, Tibicen auletes, is the common annual cicada that lives in Iowa.
While this is the one that commonly leaves an empty shell on tree trunks and fence posts in the yard, I’m sure you recognize it by the song of the males if not by its appearance. Listen to an annual cicada recording here. Inside the green box titled “Songs of Insects Jukebox” at the bottom of the page, click on the “scissor-grinder cicada” link.
In trees in both urban and rural settings, annual cicadas are very common and ubiquitous. They are non-flowering, feed on no garden crops, corn, soybeans, or grasses.
Behavior and Life Cycle
As the weather improves, those ecological circumstances create a perfect storm: Locusts start to develop quickly and become increasingly packed together as the weather improves. During this time, they go through the gregarious phase, a transition from their solitary existence to a group existence.
When they move into this phase, locusts may even change color and form. Their tolerance increases, and their intelligence grows as well.
At any point in their life cycle, locusts may become gregarious. A locust develops as a nonflying nymph, solitary orgregarious, when it hatches. Before becoming a flying adult after 24 to 95 days, a nymph might alter between behavior phases.
Mosquitoes have big hind legs that aid them hop or jump, so they appear like ordinary grasshoppers. They may even live alone like a grasshopper does on occasion. Locust behavior, on the other hand, might be anything.
During periods of drought, lone locusts are compelled to coexist in the sparse patches of land left over from previous vegetation. Locusts become more sociable and acquire quicker moves and a wider variety of food as a result of this rush of serotonin in their central nervous systems.
What Do Locusts Eat?
These insects have been known to gather in massive swarms, with billions of individuals. These plagues damaged crops and destroyed fields by destroying vegetation and agricultural land. Insects like to eat delicate foliage, such as leaves and grass. Different species’ eating habits and preferences for certain plants will vary.
They may occasionally forage on dead grasshoppers or, in extreme cases, even attack the weakest members of their species when food is scarce.
These insects have a significant function in stimulating plant growth in their habitats, while swarming and devastating crops. In comparison to adults, nymphs have a bigger appetite.
How Locusts Affect Humans
Locusts are usually regarded as fearsome pests capable of causing natural disasters, despite the fact that their swarming behavior seldom occurs. People bite locusts, despite the fact that they don’t bite people.
Locusts are considered edible, and locust recipes, such as Cambodian peanut-stuffed locusts, are popular in various cultures throughout the globe. However, since current farmers may apply insecticides to defend their crops from locusts, consuming locusts may be risky since they might be contaminated with pesticide residue.
Periodical cicadas, another huge insect that appears in immense numbers every few years, are frequently mistaken with locusts. Despite the fact that cicadas are technically locusts and not grasshoppers, they’re often referred to as “locusts.” According to the National Wildlife Fund, periodic cicadas emerge from the ground every 13 or 17 years, depending on the species.
Where Are The Locusts Swarming, And How Big Are The Swarms?
According to the FAO’s Desert Locust Watch, swarms are most prevalent in East African nations such as Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, although they have been progressively spreading over Southwest Asia and the Middle East. Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uganda, and Iran are among the countries affected.
According to Keith Cressman, the U.N., it is the country’s worst outbreak in 70 years. “It’s the worst they’ve faced in the last quarter of a century,” says the Food and Agriculture Organization’s senior locust forecasting officer.
The swarms are gigantic clumps of billions of insects that swarm. They range in size from a third of a mile to 100 square miles, with 40 million to 80 million locusts packed into half a square mile. In dark clouds the size of football fields and little towns, they flatten pasturelands.
One swarm was reported to be 25 miles long by 37 miles wide in northern Kenya, according to Cressman, and it would blanket the city of Paris 24 times over.
According to Cressman, big cyclones in 2018 dumped water in Oman, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa, which experts believe is contributing to the increase. The wet environment has remained, allowing for ideal bug breeding.
A generation of locusts may multiply twentyfold every three months once they reach the gregarious stage. As a result, when they boom, everything goes exponential; the situation quickly deteriorates.
How Do Locusts Affect Food Security?
Ravenous eaters, locusts devour everything in their path. A mature desert locust may eat over its weight in a day, weighing around 2 grams (a drop of an ounce). They aren’t fussy at all, and they aren’t choosy.
A swarm of just 1 square kilometer, or slightly more than a third of a square mile, may devour as much food as 35,000 individuals (or six elephants) in a single day, according to the FAO.
They can destroy 50 to 80% of the crops depending on the time of year, Overson claims.
The most recent large locust outbreak, which occurred from 2003 to 2005, caused $2.5 billion in agricultural damage. According to studies, subsistence farmers bore the brunt of the financial impact. Girls were disproportionately affected since children who grew up during the time were significantly less likely to attend school.
To top it off, many countries hit with the worst infestations are already crippled by protracted problems — recovering from recessions, dealing with natural disasters, wracked by conflict, and now the coronavirus epidemic.
They’ve had successive years of drought, and then this year, they’ve had severe rains and floods, Cressman says, referring to a part of Africa that is really, really vulnerable. They’re already in a difficult situation, even without the locusts.”
In a region where 42 million people are expected to be facing severe food insecurity, Cressman claims the danger of hunger is enormous.
It’s just devoured everything by midday, he claims, as the locusts are in your field for a morning and by noon, there’s nothing left.
Except for Antarctica, locusts may be found on every continent. The Rocky Mountain locust (Melanoplus spretus) has been extinct in North America for a century, but other locust species may still be found in Mexico. A flying locust swarm may travel hundreds of kilometers in pursuit of food, depending on the species.
For example, according to National Geographic, in 1988 a swarm flew from West Africa to the Caribbean in ten days, covering more than 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers).
Locusts are a “continental challenge” as an agricultural pest because of their capacity to traverse such distances, according to Arianne Cease, director of the Global Locust Initiative at Arizona State University. Locust monitoring and management requires international collaboration.
How Far Can Locusts Travel?
Migratory, transboundary pests like locusts They gallop across fields, crisscrossing them until they discover something to eat. Cereal grain crops, which are widely grown across Africa, are particularly popular.
They are strong, long-distance flyers, and can cover hundreds of kilometers in a single day, according to Overson. “They can quickly cross countries in a matter of days, which is one of the main obstacles in coordinated actions that need to be addressed between nations and institutions.”
Swarms from North Africa first reached the Caribbean and South America in 1988, after crossing the Atlantic Ocean. They still cross the Red Sea on a regular basis, covering 186 kilometers. According to projections, “all the way from eastern to western Africa by June or July” is predicted for current locust populations, according to Overson.
Prevention How to Get Rid of Locusts
People in the past had little options when it came to protecting their crops from a swarm of these insects. They posed a Biblical threat and were rightly feared by people in ancient times.
Massive amounts of pesticides were used to protect crops in modern solutions for these insects. Small planes were used to spray pesticides over the fields.
To regulate massive swarms in 1997, a safer approach was used. The insect was killed by the development of a biological pesticide. It moved from insect to insect, eventually annihilating the swarm. The most effective control techniques were those that had little effect on the surroundings.
Humans have been eating locusts for millennia, despite the fact that they could do little to stop the locust plagues. Certain types of insects are permissible to eat, and eating them is considered halal by the Torah. They’re a specialty in certain cultures and regions of the globe, and they may be fried or smoked.