Officially, Locusts are not known to harm humans, but this is blatantly untrue. Sure, they might not bite or sting us, but instead they kill you in a much, much worse way, by slowly starving you to death by ravaging millions of hectares of crops and grazing land.
This is the reality South Africans faced last year with the largest locust plague in decades rearing it’s head in 2022. Locust swarms can contain 40 to 80 million locusts per square kilometer, with total locust swarm numbers reaching 8 billion locusts.
With numbers this high in locust swarms, it is unfortunate that locusts typically eat their entire body weight in a single day. This is barely an issue for a single locust weighing only 2 grams, but with a locust swarm, an entire city’s daily food intake can be consumed in the same time frame. Imagine being a farmer and the entirety of Cape Town comes to your farm for a 3-course meal on the house!
The Unsuccessful Locust Solution
Many have asked why we don’t simply eat the locusts descending on farmland, and while this idea isn’t absurd with locusts actually containing more protein per square inch than beef (and allegedly tasting pretty good once you get over the ick factor) there are multiple reasons why this is a bad idea today. Locusts have become such a large issue that government officials of multiple countries have turned to using pesticides to ward off locusts from farmland. While this does help a lot with exterminating invading locusts it also leaves chemical residues on the locust’s bodies, making them inedible.
Another reason is the biological transformation some species of locusts go through after entering a swarm. While it is quite rare (only affecting 20 of the known 7000 species), said species will change their body chemistry after being affected by the large amount of feces that large swarms of locusts produce, their diet evolves to include plants with toxic alkaloids, making the locusts poisonous themselves. With this transformation the locust’s body changes from brown to a startling yellow and black, this would usually be dangerous for the locusts as they would be easier to see, but this hardly matters when they have billions of friends with them to back them up.
The Situation: Locusts – Then and Now
In May of Last year South Africa had a big scare with the largest locust outbreak in 25 years, A large swarm attacked South Africa’s Eastern Cape and destroyed 5 million hectares of grazing land. This was tough for the food industry as a whole but especially tough on rural villages that depend on livestock not just to sell, but to survive. In response to this, South Africa started using high-tech systems that can predict where locust outbreaks are most likely to occur, they can even tell whether the locust swarms are juveniles (and thus unable to fly) or full-flying adults. Using this information we implemented both pesticides and a more environmentally friendly bio-fungus, which is deadly to locusts but completely harmless to both humans and our crops.
Unfortunately bio-fungus pesticides are usually more expensive than regular chemical pesticides and require more time and planning to implement, so whilst it is the more environmentally friendly option to use it effectively, it is used in tandem with normal pesticides.
Despite 2022 predictions claiming that 2023 would be bad year for locust swarms, this year has been calm so far and looks to stay that way, with only a few small swarms spotted in northern Africa.
And so our crops and livestock live to see another day, but hopefully, this article has made you a little more aware of the true danger locust swarms can have on our country.
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