Locust insects, which are also known as giant size grasshoppers, are types of species coming from the family of Acrididae carrying swarming phase. Locust infestations are often included with chemical, biological, or culture, but also deeply rooted in different societies. These grasshopper species can devastate agriculture crops, which can bring huge food scarcity and economic loss. Over the decades, there have been many cases of devastating plagues carried by locust attacks. More recently, a swift change in farming practice and better surveillance have helped control the post-attack result.
What makes locust insects unique and equally dangerous is that when it forms a huge group, it can migrate to long-distance to feast on crops. To bring down the attack, there is a use of insecticides and biological control. Majority of countries, especially in those where temperature is quite hot, locusts attacks are quite common. These attacks have affected the overcall vegetation and other essentials, bringing income to a halt.
What is Locust?
Locust, falling under the family of Acrididae is spread across different parts of the world, is referred to as short-horned grasshoppers when increased in numbers can migrate to other regions. Usually, these locust insects are restless and keep flying on warm, dry days, when the body temperature becomes high. During the migration, the muscular activity raises its temperature. In 1869, desert locust - one of the locust family types reached England flying from West Africa. Similarly, in 1889, it flew across the Red Sea, covering 5000 square km.
Difference Between Locusts and Grasshopper
Although grasshoppers and locusts look familiar in terms of structure, the behavioral state of both is different. Locusts can exist in two different states (Solitary and Gregarious), grasshoppers, on the other hand, cannot. In the case of low population, locusts act as an individual. However, when the population is vast, there is a significant swift in behavioral and physiological changes.
In addition to these two changes, locusts also have differences in their body shape and color. Migratory locusts carry all the features of phase changes, which is also seen in life stages, forming dense bands and swarms.
List of Locust Species
The locust family is vast and differentiated as per the geographical location. Each of these species has its characteristics.
Also called the Egyptian grasshopper or locust is the subfamily of this insect. It is relatively common in European countries and North Africa. These locust species usually habitat in trees and shrubs.
One of the significant types of locusts, Australian plague locust is called Chortoicetes terminifera. It is widely known for infesting large areas of crops and trees. This category's adult male is 25-30 mm long, while the female is 30-42 mm. The migration of this species occurs on strong warm winds depending majorly on low-pressure systems.
Also called the Schistocerca gregaria is the most notorious among the locust family. These are majorly found in the Middle East and Asia and inhabit six million square miles. These locusts can spread over 60 countries during the plague, which is like covering 1/5th of Earth's land surface. Desert locusts usually swarm together in the pack of 80 million covering 460 square miles.
Spur- Throated is an Australian locust species falling into the family of Acrididae. The adult female locust size is 46-45mm longer, while mature male locust is 35-45 mm. The life span of this type of locust is 10-12 months.
This high-plain locust is one of the types of band-winged grasshopper falling into the family of Acrididae and are primarily found in North America. This locust carried a devastating history when it formed enormous swarms in the 1930s, causing huge damage to crops in the US's western part.
A yellow winged locust is also called as the grasshopper in Australia. It displays its yellow back wings in flight while emitting loud clicking sound. These locusts are usually confused with Australian plague locusts.
It is a widespread locust and found majorly in Africa, Asia and New Zealand. This locust has various subspecies. When these locusts are in-group, they can migrate miles away, destroying crops coming their way.
This large-size grasshopper is mostly found in sub-Saharan Africa and has red hind wings. Coming from the locust family of Acrididae, they are large and nymphs. These locusts prefer living in a moist environment such as floodplains.
Also called the Bombay locust, it is widely found in India and South-East Asia. This locust plagued India during 1901 and 1908, devastating large areas of crops. These locusts are green with black spots. However, you will also find these locusts in plain green, orange-brown and black spots. During the swarming period, they spend most of their time in Western Ghats' forests to enjoy the cool period.
This medium-sized grasshopper is usually found in Sahel region of Africa and WEST Asia. Although these are not entirely locust, their behaviors replicate the same. These grasshoppers feed on a wide variety of grasses and generally attack cereals and maize.
One of the species of locust, Schistocerca cancellata is the major swarming species in South America. These locusts come in two forms- Solitarious and Gregarious. Both usually migrate in crop-growing regions. Schistocerca cancellata is widely criticized for the economic damage it does by destroying crops and forage plants.
Like these, there are many more types of locusts found in different parts of the world. There has been major economic loss due to some of the migratory locusts. In the year 2020, India witnessed a vast migratory locust attack destroying crops in many northern parts.
Interaction with Humans
If we go deeper into the locust information, we could find that locusts interact with humans. There has been an encounter between humans and locust in the last two millennia at the regular interval. Outbreaks took place in the Middle East, Europe and India. For over 173 outbreaks took place in the period 1924 in China itself. On the other hand, Bombay Locust attacked India and southeastern Asia in the 19th century.
During 1747, Locusts attacked Damascus eating crops and vegetation in the countryside.
Monitoring and Control:
Locust animals are sometimes uncontrollable and need human intervention on a large scale. Historically, people could do only less to protect their farm from locust. However, as time changed and technology intervened, a human can now monitor and predict this locust bugs' arrival.
Different mechanisms were involved like crushing, trapping them in ditches. In the 1950s, Organochloride dieldrin was the breakthrough as an insecticide. However, it later was banned in many countries due to its adverse effects on the environment.
There are many pesticides used for killing locusts and bringing down their effect. Water-based contact pesticides using tractor-based sprayer are quite useful but are slow in terms of result. Other modern technologies used in many countries are- GIS tools, GPS and satellite imagery.
These pesticides and other tools may not completely kill locusts but can control their effect to avoid disruption in the environment.
Consumption of Locusts
One of the weirdest facts about locusts is that they are one type of consumption in many countries. The Middle East, Africa and some Asian countries consume locusts as edible insects. In the Bible, John the Baptist consumed locusts with wild honey during his wild journey.
In the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudi Arabia, the consumption of Locust bugs during the Ramadan period in 2014 was high. However, later it was banned due to its unsafe nature for humans.
Many people consume this bug because of the edible protein, calcium, iron and zinc in their body, which they get from fodder and crop.
Locusts swarming is generally the movement of these bugs from one place to another. Some travel 50 miles per day and some 90 miles per day. As they swarm, they devastate crops and plantations in regions they are landing. Swarms usually occur in the desert region. Nowadays, they are also moving to cities. There are more than 60 countries where swarming takes place. The Middle East and North Africa are familiar with locusts swarming.
Some Major Locusts Facts
This type of locust is called Schistocerca gregaria, which can change itself from solitary creature to sociable. This transformation happens due to wet weather, where they transform into massive swarms.
Many locusts’ bugs carry brown color, which acts as the camouflage in the desert region. The brown color then turns into vibrant yellow. This transformation enables them to travel long distances in-group and helps in hiding from predators.
Once they swarm, locusts have an insatiable appetite. They need something to eat so that they can travel for long. The locust's average weight is two grams, and they can eat the same amount of fresh vegetation every day.
Locusts during the swarming season can fly around 90 miles. There are many examples of these in the past. In 1954, swarms flew from northwest Africa to Great Britain, which is the longest journey.
Once the locust group lands in the farm or vegetation, it can destroy the field and crop. This loss could take away the livelihood of many people who are dependent on the vegetation.
Due to the increase in the heart condition, there will be a new generation of locust bug breeding in some region that could create havoc. An increase in the locusts’ insects can be dangerous for humans and vegetation. Without crops, not humans, but animals who are depending on vegetation may die. In its report, the UN said there would be more than 20 million people in a country like the one Somalia could get affected.
In 2003, the locust outbreak that attacked 20 countries in Northern Africa lasted for two years. During these two years, people's livelihood was severely affected, especially children who could not go to school.
There have been many desert locust plague attacks back in history. Kenya and other such countries have faced deadly swarm attacks. Similarly, Ethiopia and Somalia are facing the worst locust attacks since 75 years.