A single molecule may entice normally solitary locusts to form massive swarms

Wednesday, August 12, 2020 - 10:10 in Earth & Climate

Locusts are usually harmless loners. But together, they become plagues. When conditions are right, solitary locusts begin congregating and transmogrifying into their “gregarious” form, becoming a bigger, more aggressive eating machine. These groups can grow into ever-larger conglomerations, potentially hundreds of millions strong, that cross continents and destroy crops. A swarm of desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) the size of Rome consumes as much food in a day as all the people in Kenya. This year, East Africa is experiencing its worst locust plague in decades. Now, scientists have pinpointed a compound emitted by congregating locusts that might explain how individuals of one widespread species overcome their innate aversion to socializing. The finding, described August 12 in Nature, could inform new ways of controlling or preventing locust swarms, potentially by attracting the insects with their own scents. “It’s a significant and exciting study,” says Baldwyn Torto, a chemical ecologist at the International Centre of...

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