Urban areas of Rajasthan are witnessing something unusual as swarms of locusts have been sighted in the past couple of days. Parts of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra's Vidharbha region also seen swarms of locusts in their regions. Way before their time of arrival, on April 11, locusts were first seen along India-Pakistan border in Rajasthan.
"The locust outbreak is a very badly-timed "serious infestation" that has occurred when the country is already in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic," an official of the Union Environment Ministry told news agency PTI.
Several locust waves are expected from now until early July due to spring breeding in southern Iran and southwest Pakistan.
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What are locusts?
Locusts are a collection of certain species of short-horned grasshoppers in the family Acrididae that have a swarming phase. These insects are usually solitary, but under certain circumstances they become more abundant and change their behaviour and habits, becoming gregarious. No taxonomic distinction is made between locust and grasshopper species; the basis for the definition is whether a species forms swarms under intermittently suitable conditions. At present countries in the Horn of Africa such as Ethiopia and Somalia are witnessing one of the worst locusts attacks in the last 25 years.
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Locust is a large, mainly tropical grasshopper, with strong powers of flight and it migrates in vast swarms which cause extensive damage to vegetation.
When are they sighted in India?
Normally, during July- October along the Pakistan border which connects Rajasthan, locusts are sighted. Last year, swarms of locusts had damaged to growing rabi crops in parts of Rajasthan and northern Gujarat. Since 1997, these were the first swarms reported.
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Scientists of the Agriculture Ministry’s Locust Warning Organization (LWO), from Sri Ganganagar and Jaisalmer districts of Rajasthan, first witnessed locusts swarms on April 11 this year.
Areas where locusts have been seen
Locusts have been sighted in Jaipur, MP’s Gwalior, Morena, Sheopur, Amravati, Nagpur and Wardha. It is the first time they have been spotted in these areas.
In an interview to Indian Express, KL Gurjar, Deputy Director of LWO, said there being no crops in the fields, the locusts have moved across states attracted by green cover. “The swarms were aided by high-speed wind and thus they made their way to Jaipur,” he said. At present there are three to four swarms in Rajasthan, another two or three in Madhya Pradesh, from where a small group has migrated to Maharashtra, which Gurjar said would not be very difficult to control.
Why have they arrived early?
In 2018, cyclonic storms Mekunu and Luban that had struck Oman and Yemen that turned large deserts tracts into lakes may be the reason, facilitating locust breeding that continued through 2019. November last year, Swarms attacking crops in East Africa reached peak populations and built up in southern Iran and Pakistan since the beginning of 2020 with heavy rains in East Africa in March-April enabling further breeding.
Also read: Crisis within a crisis: Amid coronavirus lockdown, parts of India now battle locust attacks
How it will affect crops in India?
Farmers in India have already harvested their rabi crop, so chances of crop damage are low as of now. In Mahrashtra, Orange growers are concerned about it, but it can be easily controlled.
According to K L Gurjar, Deputy Director of LWO, "The bigger problem will come once the present swarms breed. An adult female locust lays 80-90 eggs thrice in her three-month life cycle. If left uncontrolled, a swarm can grow exponentially to 40-80 million locusts per square kilometre", adding to it, he said "The locusts will start laying eggs after the monsoon starts and continue breeding for two more months, with newer generations rising during the growth phase of the kharif crop".Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.