Locust is one of the most dangerous insects for the national economy. The pest of agricultural and wild crops is widespread throughout the planet. Once upon a time in ancient times, locust raids not only destroyed crops, but could lead to starvation of an entire nation. A lone individual is completely harmless, but when it enters the ranks of a flock, it easily destroys all crops in its path.
Origin of the species and description
The locust is a gregarious insect of the true locust family. This large arthropod insect, which is part of the ranks of orthoptera of the suborder of the short-whiskers, reaches rather large sizes from 1 cm to 6 cm in growth. Some individuals in rare cases reach 14 cm in length. Females are significantly larger than males. In appearance, the locust is very similar to a grasshopper. The color of the locust serves as a camouflage function and may change depending on environmental factors.
The word “locust” in Turkic means “yellow”. Locust is an unpretentious and harmful insect that can be found in all corners of the planet, except for permafrost. The harsh climate is not suitable for the life of an insect. Locusts love warmth and sunshine. The life expectancy of a locust is on average from eight months to two years, while the insect can be in different life phases: the solitary phase and the gregarious phase.
The phases differ significantly from each other and affect not only the color of the insect, but also its behavior. There are a large number of locust species, up to ten thousand, the most dangerous are Asian and migratory. The locust is a vegetarian and eats any green plant.
Interesting fact: As a result of rubbing against each other, the wings of the locust make a sound like a creak in flight. When a huge flock of insects flies, a sound is formed that resembles a strong rumble, which is heard over long distances. Some people mistake this sound for thunder.
Appearance and Features
By nature, the locust has an elongated body and six legs, two of which, namely the front ones, are weak. One back is longer than the second and many times stronger. In nature, there are individuals whose body length reaches fifteen centimeters. Usually, the length of the body is in the range from 3 to 7 cm. The locust also has a large head with pronounced eyes.
The wings are transparent and almost invisible when folded and are covered with two hard elytra. Locust is one of the oldest representatives of the Orthoptera order. Around the world, there are about twenty thousand species. The color of the locust depends only on the place where it lives and formed. Therefore, specimens that appeared at the same time from one female can be completely different colors, provided that they are grown in different conditions.
The appearance of the locust largely depends on the stage of its formation. The color of singles is a camouflage suit of green-yellow or hazel color. The shade at the same time completely depends on the region of residence of such an insect. When the pack is formed, all its members become similar to each other. There are no differences between individuals, including no separation by gender. Locusts can cover a distance of 200 km in a day. Some species of locust are very similar to grasshoppers. Therefore, at first glance, it is difficult to recognize a pest in such individuals. A mistake can be costly, especially for farmers.
Therefore, attention should be paid to the signs by which it is easy to distinguish locusts from grasshoppers:
- the body of the locust is longer than the body of the blacksmith;
- the muzzle of the locust has a rectangular shape, while that of the grasshopper is elongated;
- the antennae of the locust are rather short in relation to its head;
- front legs locusts are developed much weaker than the rear ones;
- grasshoppers are lovers of the evening coolness, so they lead an active life in the evening. Locusts, on the contrary, are very fond of daylight, so they are active during daylight hours;
- grasshoppers never gather in swarms, while locusts are most often found in the company of their relatives.
Where do the locusts live?
There are a huge variety of locust species, and approximately six hundred of them live in Russia. Mostly in its southern regions. The steppe locust lives in Asia, North Africa, and Europe. There are also species living on the borders of the Sahara, the Indo-Malay Archipelago, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, Siberia and Madagascar. Also, large concentrations of individuals are present on the Amu Darya River, Dagestan.
There are varieties living in the northern regions, but their numbers are much lower. Locusts love dry and hot weather and settle in regions with similar weather conditions. Locusts have settled in almost all corners of the earth, except for Antarctica. They simply cannot survive in the permafrost.
Fun fact: Locusts are not found in North America. Its last invasion here was at the end of the 19th century. After a fruitful fight against the pest, no locusts were seen in this area.
Today, locusts inhabit all climatic zones of the planet. Since it prefers warm climates, it is easy to find it in tropical and subtropical regions. With all this, the locust is also a resident of Western Siberia. Each type of locust is suitable for certain comfortable living conditions. While one type of insect prefers to settle in thickets near water bodies, another species prefers semi-desert areas on rocky soil overgrown with sparse vegetation.
Now you know where the locust is found. Let's see what this insect eats.
What do locusts eat?
The locust is endowed with a very powerful jaw, which allows it to absorb any soft and hard food into food. The structure of the oral cavity does not allow the insect to eat nectar or plant juice. She can only chew on plants. At the same time, any plants are suitable for nutrition.
Locust nutrition depends on its phase. Lonely individuals feed moderately and do not cause severe damage to plantings. The appetite of such a locust allows it to eat no more than half a kilogram of greens in a lifetime. However, when locusts become part of a swarm, their appetite immediately increases significantly. An insect in a flock is forced to constantly absorb a huge amount of food in order to survive. If the locust does not regularly replenish the energy balance and restore vitality, then it is doomed to die from thirst and protein deficiency.
The locust, which is part of the swarm, destroys all the greenery around it, while it can eat up to half a kilogram green mass per day. If the food runs out, the insect turns into a predator and can begin to devour its relatives. The appetite of locusts is directly dependent on the temperature level, the higher it is, the more greens are eaten.
Interesting fact: A swarm of locusts eats everything except iron, stones and synthetics. The insect's favorite food is reed vegetation.
After a swarm of locusts raids green spaces, almost bare ground remains.
Character and Lifestyle Features
The peculiarity of the locust is that it is able to live both on its own and in huge flocks. In the case when the locust lives alone, it does not have a huge appetite and moves relatively little. It is not dangerous and does not cause much damage. As soon as the food runs out, the locust tries to lay the maximum possible number of eggs, from which gregarious individuals will later hatch, which can and will move long distances.
The offspring will be larger than their parents, their wings will be more powerful, which means , they will be able to travel longer distances. In swarms, locusts are very mobile and incredibly voracious. Flocks can be calculated in half a million. In order for the breeding of flocks to begin, a deficiency of organic substances and amino acids in the body of the locust must form, and the reason for this may be a dry year and a lack of food.
An interesting fact: The well-developed hind limbs of the insect allow it to move in one jump over distances that are ten times longer than the size of the body of the locust. A walking herd of locusts can cover a distance of 20 km in a daylight day.
A swarm of locusts is an organized system that moves purposefully at the call of fear and hunger. An adult can walk, jump and fly. However, the most efficient way to get around is by flying. A tailwind helps the locust to move much faster, saving their strength.
Social Structure and Reproduction
Locusts lay eggs and reproduce sexually. To attract a female, the male uses a specific hormone (produced by the male when the wings vibrate), and the female, in turn, chooses the male by the smell she likes. After she finds a male, she tries to approach him as close as possible. The male lightly touches his partner a couple of times with his antennae, and after that he attaches himself to the female and tries to deposit a special capsule with spermatozoa in the back of her abdomen.
This is a rather laborious and lengthy procedure, so the approximate mating time is 13 hours, but it can happen faster. After mating, the female buries the ovipositor in moist soil, covering it with a special foamy liquid, which, after solidification, turns into a hardened cocoon. The average number of eggs in one clutch ranges from 60 to 80 eggs. Throughout her life, the female makes from 6 to 12 clutches, which on average equals four hundred eggs. After twelve days, white larvae simultaneously appear from the eggs, which, after birth, begin to actively eat and grow.
In order to get out of the capsule, the larvae need a lot of time and effort. As soon as the larvae hatch, they molt and release their limbs. The locust larva is very similar to the adult, only it is much smaller and lacks wings. After going through several stages of development, the larva, after 35 – 40 days, becomes an adult locust, undergoing five molts.
Natural enemies of locusts
It is laid down by nature so that the locust is also food for other living beings. This is due to its high nutritional value, since it contains a lot of protein, fat and phosphorus. The main enemy of the insect are birds. Birds not only eat adults, but also exterminate their eggs, pecking them out of the ground. Similarly, locust eggs destroy pigs, moles and shrews. Spiders do not disdain such food.
Praying mantises and other mammals that feed on small insects also hunt locusts. Locusts are eaten by various ungulates such as zebras, giraffes and roe deer, as well as elephants and lions. Many pets will also not refuse to enjoy a delicious delicacy in the form of locusts. It is worth noting that the locust itself does not mind eating its fellow, in the case when there is no other food left.
Interesting fact: People also eat locust food, moreover, as cooked (in fried and boiled) and raw. Flour is made from sun-dried locusts and ground to a powder, which is added to milk or fat during baking.
There are a number of parasites that also destroy locusts:
- Blusters and fungi destroy locust eggs;
- Viviparous flies and hairworms infect the locust body from the inside.
Population and species status
The area of locust distribution is conditionally divided into the following areas:
- a place where locusts appear regularly in different phases and at all stages of their development. It is from such places that insects spread along the periphery. Such a place is popularly called a nesting place.
- a place where locusts do not always fly and lay offspring there. So the insect can act for several years.
- a place where an insect flies, but cannot lay eggs;
- locust nests often become floodplains of rivers and lakes, abundantly overgrown with reeds.
Favorable external conditions, including weather, directly proportionally affect the size of the locust population. In a short time, the swarm of locusts increases and moves over long distances. Often the flock is carried by the wind. The growth of the insect population increases primarily when the locust passes from the solitary stage to the stage of part of the swarm. The more an individual has tactile, visual and chemical contact with its relatives in the swarm, the more often the transition phase occurs.
Scientists have been able to experimentally determine that stimuli that encourage locusts to move from one stage to another cause an active release of serotonin in insect neurons. This discovery will further help in the development of a drug that will be used to control the number of locusts. Locusts are massively revived approximately once every ten years. During such a period, a huge herd covers an area from 300 to 1000 km and at the same time can occupy an area of up to 2000 hectares of land cover.
Locust is a harmful insect that can cause significant damage to agriculture. A lone locust does not pose a danger to green spaces, however, when it adjoins a flock of its relatives, it actively begins to destroy all the surrounding greenery. A swarm of locusts is not whimsical in its diet, almost everything that comes in its path becomes its food.