While some have gone extinct, locusts have existed since the Biblical era and beyond. In a swarm, they are capable of causing insurmountable agricultural losses as they have done in the past. While cases of locust infestation are few and far between nowadays, they have historically affected the lives of millions worldwide. Here are some fascinating locust facts you probably haven’t heard.
1. China Paid the Price for Killing Locusts’ Natural Predator in 1960
In 1958, the Chinese thought sparrows posed a pest problem, so they killed thousands of them. Two years later, a swarm of locusts attacked the region, resulting in massive crop destruction. More than 20 million people lost their lives due to famine. Experts attribute this to the killing of the insects’ natural predators.
2. Locusts Are Considered Meat
Locusts are a loved delicacy in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Different methods of preparation are available depending on the region and personal preferences. The most common ones include smoking, drying, and frying.
3. Eating Locusts Was a Method of Swarm Control
Historically, eating locusts was a viable method of controlling their infestation. Other than that, there was nothing much that people could do. The insects would invade a farm, destroy all the crops, and then migrate to their next target.
4. A Swarm Can Contain Billions of Locusts
Swarms of locusts have been known to contain billions of insects. For instance, a swarm of 192 billion locusts was recorded in Northeast Kenya in 2020. To put that into perspective, the insects could easily cover a region three times the size of New York City and eat the same amount of food as 90 million people.
5. It’s Possible to Manually Turn a Grasshopper into a Locust
A researcher recently found out that you can turn a grasshopper into a locust by rubbing its hind legs for five seconds, every minute for four hours.
6. Desert Locusts Are the Most Popular
Thanks to their massive distribution across North Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent, desert locusts are the most popular. Their prominent features include the ability to migrate over long distances and are an agricultural menace.
7. Locusts Are the Only Insects Considered Kosher
Among many other things, Judaism prohibits eating insects. Kosher refers to foods that comply with the strict Judaism dietary rules. Interestingly, locusts are considered kosher because they can destroy crops. This justifies eating them; if they can consume all the food, eating them to avoid starvation is logical.
8. There Was a Historical Locust Infestation in Africa between 2003 and 2005
The period between 2003 and 2005 saw a historical locust infestation in some parts of Africa, including Sudan, Niger, and Mali. Following heavy rains that created the perfect conditions for swarming, the insects attacked farms and ate all the crops, resulting in massive losses.
They later migrated to Morocco and Algeria before crossing to Israel and Jordan. It was the first time this had happened in about half a century. Estimates show that about US$122 million was used to mitigate the infestation. Crops worth over $2.5 billion were destroyed.
9. There Are No Native Locusts in North America
Other than Antarctica, North America is the only region without native locusts. Initially, the Rocky Mountain locusts were there, but they became extinct somewhere in 1902. The High Plains locust also reigned terror in the region during the Dust Bowl, but that was just about it; they, too, didn’t survive for long. Today, North America doesn’t have any locust swarming cases.
10. The Rocky Mountain Locusts Once Blocked out the Sun for 5 Days
Before they became extinct, the Rocky Mountain locusts once gathered until they were many enough to block the sun for five days. The swarm measured 1,800 miles long and 110 miles wide. Experts estimate the swarm contained 13 trillion insects, weighed about 28 million metric tons, and was enough to feed the world for 10 days. Farmers who tried to shoo them away had their clothes eaten off their bodies.
11. Crop Farming Wiped Out the Rocky Mountain Locusts
Usually, locusts wipe out crops. Ironically, when settlers started farming along the river valleys of Montana and Wyoming, which were the insects’ hide-out locations, it resulted in their extinction. The farmers diverted the streams for irrigation, allowed livestock to feed in riparian areas, and eliminated beavers.
12. Ancient Egyptians Curved Locusts Drawings on Their Tombs
Historical documents show locusts have been around since time immemorial. The plagues they caused have well been documented even in religious books such as the Bible and the Quran. In Egypt, the natives carved locust images on their tombs between 2470 and 2220 BC.
13. Locust Infestation in Palestine and Syria Resulted in Death of about 200,000 People
In 1915, Palestine and Syria were attacked by a swarm of locusts that ate all the crops in Lebanon, resulting in historical famine. Consequently, around 200,000 people reportedly died from the plague.
14. Locusts Are Better Controlled Nowadays
One of the reasons why locust infestation cases are rare nowadays is because modern remedies have been developed. To begin with, experts can now monitor the insects, detect, and eradicate them before they reach the swarming stage. Unfortunately, this method is only viable in richer countries such as Saudi Arabia and Morocco– regions like Yemen and Mauritania are still threatened. Also, early detection can only help too much; organizational and political differences remain an issue in areas regularly threatened.
15. There Are No Significant Differences between Locusts and Grasshoppers
Grasshoppers and locusts share many features; they are categorized in the same family. If anything, locusts result when a grasshopper’s serotonin levels increase, resulting in a metamorphosis that lasts two to three hours.
16. Locusts Are Waterproof
Locusts have a special type of skin known as the cuticle. The cuticle has three layers, with the nearest to the body made of soft and flexible tissue, while the outermost is made of a thin wax layer. As a result, the insects are waterproof; liquid insecticides rarely affect them.
17. They Exist in Two States
Locusts exist in two states: gregarious and solitary. Individually, the insects are calm and aren’t as destructive. However, when they form a swarm, they undergo polyphenism that causes behavioral and psychological changes. Even their color changes to brown.