Read ‘L’ for locusts

An insect from Biblical times tells his tale of survival

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Wednesday 10 June 2020
A desert locust. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Hi. My name is Locust. Actually, the full name is Desert Locust. But we will stick to ‘Locust’ for now.

I am a small insect. But don’t underestimate me by my size. I have been around since the first human set foot on this Earth and have played a significant role in human culture and civilization. I will explain this as I speak.

For starters, I am, in fact, a grasshopper. All locusts are grasshoppers. They belong to the ‘Family’ Acrididae and the ‘Order’ Orthoptera. Now look friends. I don’t really understand this taxonomy stuff, bombastic Greek words and all. It was discovered by some Swedish man called Linnaeus, who, I guess wanted to divide everything in nature into categories.

Anyway, to come back to my particulars. We locusts, when treated as single solitary insects are very unremarkable. The best use that humans can make of us is eating our flesh. We are kosher (one can eat) according to Jewish and Islamic dietary laws. Well, some of us, that is.

But everything changes when we become what scientists call as ‘gregarious’. Very special conditions are required for this to happen.

A long period of drought, followed by heavy rains, which causes thick vegetation to grow, triggers a ‘chemical reaction’ in our primitive brains. The rush of serotonin causes us to band together. We form what are known as ‘swarms’. A ‘typical’ swarm can consist of up to 100-150 million locusts per square kilometre.

It is in this condition that our destructive potential is revealed. We fly with the aid of the wind in whichever direction it takes us. For instance, recently, we were predicted to visit Delhi after having paid a visit to Jaipur. Instead, the wind took us to Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

We descend on vegetation that comes in our way. Each of us eats a quantity of vegetation equal to our body weight. And those humans on the ground below are left desperate wondering where their next meal will come from.

The best known of our race is the desert locust. I am one. My tribe is found in North Africa, West Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. When the times are good, we fly over the Red Sea from Africa into the Arabian Peninsula and from there into Iran and South Asia. The current attack that you have seen across this region is because we got the best conditions in so many years: Countries in the region received so much rain that we were able to multiply.

Our role in destabilising human food stores is well-documented. From the tale of Moses in the Bible to references in the Greek and Hindu epics to attacks in the 20th century that resulted in famine, we have been there and will be there. You have to learn to deal with us. We ain’t going nowhere. We are the fittest. Now tell me who is really superior?

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