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What are locusts and how are they harmful? Here’s everything you need to know

Desert Locusts have been a reason behind putting crops worth crores at risk.

May 26, 2020 / 10:49 PM IST

How does an insect measuring a few inches press the administration and a large number of personnel into action every year? Simple, by attacking crops together in unity.

For India, where a large section of population is dependent on agriculture to earn their livelihood, protecting crops is a priority for the state.

But every year, the Desert Locust disturbs this balance.

According to an estimate, a small swarm of locusts can eat food that is enough for as many as 2,500 people in a single day.


Here’s everything you need to know about them:

What is Desert Locust?

The Desert Locust is one of about a dozen species of short-horned grasshoppers (Acridoidea) that are known to change their behaviour and form swarms of adults or bands of hoppers (wingless nymphs). The swarms that form can be dense and highly mobile. The scientific name for Desert Locust is Schistocerca gregaria (Forskal).

How many species of locusts are there in world and India?

There are 10 important species of locusts in the world listed below:

The Desert Locust, The Bombay Locust, The Migratory Locust, The Italian Locust, The Moroccan Locust, The Red Locust, The Brown Locust, The South American Locust, The Australian Locust, The Tree Locust.

Only four types of locust viz., Desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria),Migratory locust (Locusta migratoria) Bombay Locust (Nomadacris succincta) and Tree locust (Anacridium sp.)are reported in India. The desert locust is most important pest in India as well as in intercontinental context.

What is the difference between locusts and grasshoppers?

Locusts are part of a large group of insects commonly called grasshoppers which have big hind legs for jumping. Locusts belong to the family called Acrididae. Locusts differ from grasshoppers in that they have the ability to change their behaviour and habits and can migrate over large distances.

What is the history of locust invasion in India?

Historically, the Desert Locust has always been a major threat to man’s well-being. The Desert Locust is mentioned as curse to mankind in ancient writings viz. Old Testament-Bible and the Holy Quran. The magnitude of the damage and loss caused by the locusts is very gigantic beyond imagination as they have caused starvation due to its being polyphagous feeder, and on an average small locust swarm eats as much food in one day as about 10 elephants, 25 camels or 2500 people. Locust do cause damage by devouring the leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, bark and growing points and also by breaking down trees because of their weight when they settle down in masses.

What other countries are affected by the Desert Locust?

The invasion area of desert locust covers about 30 million sq km which includes whole or parts of nearly 64 countries. This includes countries like North West and East African countries, Arabian Peninsula, the Southern Republic of erstwhile USSR, Iran, Afghanistan, the Indian sub-continent. During recession periods when locust occurs in low densities, it inhabits a broad belt of arid and semi-arid land which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to North West India. Thus, it covers over 16 millions sq kms in 30 countries.

How far and how fast can Desert Locusts migrate?

Desert Locusts usually fly with the wind at a speed of about 16-19 km/h depending on the wind. Swarms can travel about 5-130 km or more in a day. Locusts can stay in the air for long periods of time. For example, locusts regularly cross the Red Sea, a distance of 300 km. Solitary Desert Locust adults usually fly at night whereas gregarious adults (swarms) fly during the day.

How can locusts be controlled?

At present the primary method of controlling Desert Locust swarms and hopper bands is with mainly organophosphate chemicals applied in small concentrated doses (referred to as ultra low volume (ULV) formulation) by vehicle-mounted and aerial sprayers and to a lesser extent by knapsack and hand-held sprayers.

What are the other agencies/ministries involved in the locust control apart from agriculture ministry?

Apart from the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, other ministries (External Affairs, Home Affairs, Defence, Earth Sciences, Civil Aviation and Communications)and stakeholders (e.g. State Governments, Health Department, farmers) are to be involved during a Desert Locust emergency. The role and responsibilities of these stakeholders is defined in the implementation part of the plan.

All information sourced from Ministry of Agriculture’s Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine & Storage. You can find more details on the Desert Locust here.
Moneycontrol News
first published: May 26, 2020 11:54 am
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