A new concern: early locusts
Locusts normally arrive during July-October, but have already been spotted in Rajasthan. At a time India is battling Covid, they present a new worry with their potential for exponential growth and crop destruction.
- Scientists at the Locust Warning Organisation (LWO) observed groups of grasshoppers at Sri Ganganagar and Jaisalmer districts of Rajasthan.
- But far from ordinary hoppers, these were desert locusts — the same destructive migratory pests currently devouring acres of maize, sorghum and wheat crops in East Africa.
- While locusts are seen in India as well, that is normally only during July-October and mostly as solitary insects or in small isolated groups.
- Their being spotted along the India-Pakistan border before mid-April this time — and coming after the damage they caused to the growing rabi crops along western Rajasthan and parts of northern Gujarat during December-January — has raised the alarm bells, and comes at a time when the country is battling the more high-profile novel coronavirus pandemic.
What are Locusts
- The desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is a short-horned grasshopper that is innocuous while it is in a “solitary phase” and moving about independently.
- These winged insects differ from normal hoppers, and become dangerous only when their populations build up rapidly and the close physical contact in crowded conditions triggers behavioural changes.
- They, then, enter the “gregarious phase”, by grouping into bands and forming swarms that can travel great distances (up to 150 km daily), while eating up every bit of vegetation on the way.
- If not controlled at the right time, these insect swarms can threaten the food security of countries.