Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Locusts

Amiram Cohen
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Amiram Cohen

What is a locust?

"Locust" is the general name for several different species of grasshoppers that share a unique biological characteristic: They congregate in huge swarms and migrate thousands of kilometers from their areas of origin, devouring all vegetation in their path.

What is known about the swarming and migration mechanism of the locust?

The female locust usually lays eggs once a year, as is customary in the grasshopper family, and the population of pests remains constant. But every few years, there are environmental conditions (abundant rain, humidity and high temperatures) that encourage the locust to reproduce excessively, creating high population density in the areas where they originate (the plains of southern Sudan and Ethiopia, and parts of India). Then the extraordinary behavioral phenomenon occurs: Each individual locust is affected by the behavior of the other locusts and the moment a number of them take to the air, they are joined by millions or even hundreds of millions of others, creating huge swarms that are carried with the wind to new areas of sustenance.

What are the characteristics of the locust's migration?

Locusts travel and are only active during the daytime. Their migration generally begins in late morning after they warm up in the sun.

How do we fight these pests?

From ancient times through the beginning of the 20th century, people fought off locusts by making loud noise, which sometimes succeeded in driving them from one field to another. Since the invention of pesticides in the early 1900s, locusts have been sprayed with them. Spraying from the air leads to the most effective results.

When should this be done?

Spraying of pesticide is only effective in the morning hours, when the temperature is low and the locusts are inactive. During these hours, they are motionless and helpless on the ground, and thus more exposed to the pesticides. In general, it is very difficult to combat the locusts after they have already begun their migration. Therefore, treatment is focused on their breeding grounds, as soon as the first signs of swarming are evident. The egg-laying areas are marked and the locust larvae are sprayed immediately after hatching.

Where did the swarms of locusts that reached the Negev and Arava originate?

The locusts that reached Israel are from central Africa. Political problems and civil wars in this region prevented effective supervision of the locust breeding grounds this year and, as a result, huge swarms massed and began to migrate to the north, along the western coast of Africa to Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia. Much larger swarms advanced to the east through northern Africa to Libya, Egypt, northern Sinai and Israel. Some of the masses of locusts that concentrated in the Sinai turned south toward the Gulf of Suez, and from there to Eilat and the Arava.

Who is responsible in Israel for tracking the movement of locusts and fighting them?

The Agriculture Ministry's plant protection service has contingency plans in the event of a locust invasion. These plans are now being activated. Disinfestation crews are being sent to all of the areas where swarms were reported and are spraying the locusts from the ground and air during the early morning hours. The pesticide being used is not harmful to plants or other animals, and is considered environmentally friendly. The ministry has set up an emergency situation room and anyone who spots the creatures can call (03) 968-1500.

What do you do if you discover locusts near your home?

You can spray the pests with any spray used to kill cockroaches. It is also recommended to consult with the local sanitation department.