An insect it is, but powerful are their wings making many initially mistake them as small birds. For they can cross borders and feast — this is why they are feared for they are the desert locusts.
Grass hoppers look gentle even though they do the same damage. The major difference is that locusts come in mass and that is when they are called a swarm. A swarm tends to be one kilometre if not more. And they are hungry. Anything green is attractive even if it has thorns.
Exploring wildflowers I came across an exotic looking plant and as I stared at it longer I realised it was a normal wild plant except that its leaves were cleaned off by the locusts.
They do not stay anywhere long enough they prefer to be on the move constantly until they find a comfort zone, but there were few locusts that seemed to have been left behind and they continued to explore and a closer look indicated that the ones who were left behind were more often injured.
There are brown as well as shiny yellow and when they fly together there is a hum while people try to take shelter by running inside the buildings or into their vehicles. So the locusts arrived in our locality too on Monday morning and it seems they were studying the area. Tensed we watched them too wondering if they will head for the gardens and hills currently covered with the winter wildflowers. It would take them minutes to erase the beauty of the wilderness as they need just any vegetation.
What are our gardens compared to the farms the ministry of agriculture and fisheries are trying to protect for the farmers? That is why desert locusts are considered as a threat to food security as well as the economy.
But the locusts that arrived in this particular part of Ruwi were in for a surprise. Some people have been regularly feeding the birds and lately a few crows had joined the company not to forget the mynahs.
The birds could not believe their luck as they focused on the frantic flying pattern of the locusts and in seconds the birds moved in too with the crows being fast and furious carrying their trophies in their beaks while still looking at the other locusts greedily as they perched on buildings. So the mighty desert locusts have their enemies too. The only thing is the crow has to finish what he has in his mouth before he can make another move. At the same time locusts are restless and want to move on for many reasons.
What is fascinating however is the length of the journey of the locusts — they could have come from Pakistan, Iran or India. How they do it is even more intriguing — they fly along the wind direction. This is when we realise how connected this universe is. Yet there are questions such as how do they know where there has been rain and where the greenery has popped up. The answer probably is in the wind too.
That is when I came across a tweet by Tariq al Mantheri, which said, “A one-kilometre swarm of locusts can contain about 40 to 80 million adult locusts, and have the same amount of food in a day as 35,000 people!”
Now locusts are often used for research in zoology because their size is perfect to conduct studies. What is interesting is for some people locusts are also a delicacy. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) had mentioned a few years ago about considering edible insects as natural resource. FAO extensively looks at this aspect in the publication ‘Edible Insects — Future Prospects for food and feed security.’
For many it must be a difficult concept to digest but the fact is it has been done so historically and could be the answer to the rising challenge of food security as it has also been found nutritious. So in other words the problem could become the solution. If it is so there are lot of opportunities floating around this season in many countries.
Not to forget though is the fact the best method that has been effective in controlling the movement of the locusts has been chemical pesticides. So this might not be the best time to try out the delicacy. In any case I will give it a miss.