Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Locusts Invade Egypt & Israel

Natural Invasion


Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) laying eggs during the 1994 locust outbreak in Mauritania.
Photo Credit: Christiaan Kooyman, 1994
Source: Wikipedia

A swarm of locusts has invaded both Egypt and Israel, says an article in Haaretz:
Several thousand locusts invaded Israel from Egypt on Monday spreading through the area of the Ramat Negev Regional Council just three weeks before Passover, including the Nitzana border crossing with Sinai. The Agriculture Ministry said that steps would be taken to exterminate the insects overnight, before they could spread to other districts.
Relatively small swarms of locusts began descended on northern Egypt in recent days and were carried into Israel by Westerly winds. The Agriculture Ministry set up a hotline a few days ago where people could report locust sightings.
“All the relevant parties in the areas that locusts can be expected to enter have been briefed and are on alert,” said Miriam Freund, director of the ministry’s Plant Protection and Inspection Services. “Israel has an aerial and land-based spraying system that is ready for action if and when it is needed. We are in regular contact with the United Nations World Food Programme, which is giving us reports on the advance of the locust swarms.”
These are likely desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria), which belong the same taxonomic family as grasshoppers; the distinction being that grasshoppers don't swarm but locusts do under certain non-ideal living conditions. Locusts can live in two states: individuals or greagarious; the former when conditions are ideal, and the latter when there is an increase in their population, and hence overcrowding, causing them to bump against each other. When this occurs, the behaviour changes take place, induced by both the chemical serotonin that activates their swarming instinct and by a pheromone that causes them to be attracted to each other. They then have a need, en masse, to escape and seek food.

The last time such locusts invaded Israel was in January 2005, as part of a migratory infestation over  west Africa, causing significant crop damage in the region. There have been many other locust invasions in the region, Wikipedia says: "During the twentieth century, desert locust plagues occurred in 1926-1934, 1940–1948, 1949–1963, 1967–1969, 1987–1989 and 2003-2005. In March-October 1915, a plague of locusts stripped Ottoman Palestine of almost all vegetation."

This is a very small swarm; the largest ever recorded covered 1,036 square kilometres (400 square miles), comprising approximately  40 billion insects. A swarm of locusts, feeling overcrowded and seeking food, can however do considerable damage to agriculture; each locust can consume the equivalent of its body weight each day, or about 2 grams. The invasion of the locusts reminds some of the biblical account of Passover, locusts being one of the ten plagues. Passover begings this year on the eve of March 25.


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You can read the rest of the article at [Haaretz]