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Desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria
Male (on top) and female
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Superclass: Hexapoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Orthoptera
Family: Acrididae
Subfamily: Cyrtacanthacridinae


Locust is the swarming phase of short-horned grasshoppers of the family Acrididae. The origin and apparent extinction of certain species of locust—some of which reached 6 inches (15 cm) in length—are unclear.[1]

These are species that can breed rapidly under suitable conditions and subsequently become gregarious and migratory. They form bands as nymphs and swarms as adults—both of which can travel great distances, rapidly stripping fields and greatly damaging crops.


Locust species

Though the female and the male look alike, they can be distinguished by looking at the end of their abdomen. The male has a boat-shaped tip while the female has two serrated valves that can be either apart or kept together. These valves aid in the digging of the hole in which an egg pod is deposited. Desert locusts can measure roughly 75mm (3 inches) in length.

In addition, a number of "grasshopper" species such as the Senegalese grasshopper Oedaleus senegalensis, and the rice grasshopper Hieroglyphus daganensis (both from the Sahel), often display locust-like behaviour and change morphologically on crowding.

Swarming behaviour and extinctions

Locust from the 1915 Locust Plague

There is no taxonomic difference between locust and grasshopper species, and in English the term "locust" is used for grasshopper species that change morphologically and behaviourally on crowding, to form swarms or hopper bands (of immature stages). These changes, or phase polymorphism, were first identified by Sir Boris Petrovich Uvarov, who studied the desert locust: whose solitary and gregarious phases had previously been thought of as separate species. Charles Valentine Riley, Norman Criddle were also involved in the understanding and destructive control of locusts. Research at Oxford University has identified that swarming behaviour is a response to overcrowding. Increased tactile stimulation of the hind legs causes an increase in levels of serotonin.[2] This causes the locust to change color, eat much more, and breed much more easily. The transformation of the locust to the swarming variety is induced by several contacts per minute over a four-hour period.[3] It is estimated that the largest swarms have covered hundreds of square miles and consisted of many billions of locusts.

The extinction of the Rocky Mountain locust has been a source of puzzlement. Recent research suggests that the breeding grounds of this insect in the valleys of the Rocky Mountains came under sustained agricultural development during the large influx of gold miners,[1] destroying the underground eggs of the locust.[4][5]

In a paper in the 30 January 2009 edition of the AAAS magazine Science, Anstey & Rogers et al. showed that when desert locusts meet up, their nervous systems release serotonin, which causes them to become mutually attracted, a prerequisite for swarming.[6][7]

Locusts as experimental models

Locusts are used as models in many fields of biology, especially in the field of olfactory, visual and locomotor neurophysiology. It is one of the organisms for which scientists have obtained detailed data on information processing in the olfactory pathway of organisms. It is suitable for the above purposes because of the robustness of the preparation for electrophysiological experiments and ease of growing them.

The International LUBILOSA Programme was set up in order to find methods of non-chemical control of locusts. Not only did it successfully develop the mycoinsecticide 'Green Muscle', but over its 12 year period, Programme staff also contributed a large number of scientific papers on subjects as diverse as fungal production, (bio)pesticide application, socio-economics and thermal ecology. Locusts thus provided a valuable "test bed" for better biological understanding and developing new technologies for microbial pesticides.

Locusts in literature and film

One of the Plagues of Egypt in the Bible was a swarm of locusts, which ate all the crops of Egypt.

The locusts were one of the antagonists in the Bone series.



In her novel On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder writes of a "glittering cloud" of locusts so large it blocked out the sun as it approached. The swarm descended upon her family's farm near Walnut Grove, Minnesota, destroying a month's wheat crop and stripping the prairie bare of all vegetation.

In the film "Exorcist II: The Heretic", the demon Pazuzu (The Exorcist) appears near the climax as a swarm of locusts, the symbolism implying that both are considered an omen of evil and are destructive.

Doris Lessing, the English writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature for the year 2007, vividly described a locust attack in her short story titled "A Mild Attack of Locusts". The story, published in the February 26, 1955 issue of The New Yorker, is set in the South African countryside and describes how a family of farmers attempts to resist the attack, to prevent and minimize the damage and to come to terms with the loss of crops.

Chinua Achebe has a swarm of locusts as a gleefully-received human food source in his 1958 novel Things Fall Apart.

In Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, the cow herd experiences being in the path of a swarm of locusts whose passage lasts several hours and which strips the prairie grass around them down to the nub, and even chews on the cowboys' clothing.

The 1978 film Days of Heaven depicts a swarm of locusts ravaging wheat fields of the Texas Panhandle, and the efforts of farmhands to eradicate the infestation.

In the graphic novel "Bone," the main villain is called The Lord of the Locusts because a giant swarm of locusts make up its living matter.

The 1937 film The Good Earth, set in China, features a massive locust swarm for its climax.

The Day of the Locust with biblical to the Plagues of Egypt.

The 1999 film The Mummy, set largely in Egypt, reviewed some of the plagues of Egypt including locusts.

The 2005 short story collection 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill contained "You Will Hear the Locust Sing". 18-year-old Francis wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a locust.

Related uses of the word "locust"

The word "locust" is derived from the Vulgar Latin locusta, which was originally used to refer to various types of crustaceans and insects; English "lobster" is derived from Anglo-Saxon loppestre, which may come from Latin locusta.[8] [1] Spanish has mostly preserved the original Latin usage, since the cognate term langosta can be used to refer both to a variety of lobster-like crustaceans and to the swarming grasshopper, while semantic confusion is avoided by employing qualifiers such as de tierra (of the land) when referring to grasshoppers, de mar and del rio (of the sea/of the river) when referring to lobsters and crayfish respectively.[9][10] French presents an inverse case; during the 16th century, the word sauterelle (literally "little hopper") could mean either grasshopper or lobster (sauterelle de mer).[11] In contemporary French usage, langouste is used almost exclusively to refer to the crustacean (two insect exceptions being the langouste de désert and the langouste de Provence).[12][13] In certain regional varieties of English, "locust" can refer to the large swarming grasshopper, the cicada (which may also swarm), and rarely to the praying mantis ("praying locust").[14]

The use of "locust" in English as a synonym for "lobster" has no grounding in anglophone tradition, and most modern instances of its use are usually calques of foreign expressions (e.g. "sea locust" as mistranslation of langouste de mer).[15] There are, however, various species of crustaceans whose regional names include the word "locust." Thenus orientalis, for example, is sometimes referred to as the Flathead locust lobster (its French name, Cigale raquette, literally "raquet cicada," is yet another instance of the locust-cicada-lobster nomenclatural connection).[16] Similarly, certain types of amphibians and birds are sometimes called "false locusts" in imitation of the Greek pseud(o)acris, a scientific name sometimes given to a species because of its perceived cricket-like chirping.[17] Often the linguistic non-differentiation of animals that not only are regarded by science as different species, but that often exist in radically different environments, is the result of culturally perceived similarities between organisms, as well as of abstract associations formed within a particular group's mythology and folklore (see Cicada mythology). On a linguistic level, these cases also exemplify an extensively documented tendency, in many languages, towards conservatism and economy in neologization, with some languages historically only allowing for the expansion of meaning within already existing word-forms.[18] Also of note is the fact that all three so-called locusts (the grasshopper, the cicada, and the lobster) have been a traditional source of food for various peoples around the world (see entomophagy).

The word "locust" has, at times, been employed controversially in English translations of Ancient Greek and Latin natural histories, as well as of Hebrew and Greek Bibles; such ambiguous renderings prompted the 17th-century polymath Thomas Browne to include in the Fifth Book of his Pseudodoxia Epidemica an essay entitled Of the Picture of a Grasshopper, it begins:

There is also among us a common description and picture of a Grashopper, as may be observed in the pictures of Emblematists, in the coats of several families, and as the word Cicada is usually translated in Dictionaries. Wherein to speak strictly, if by this word Grashopper, we understand that animal which is implied by τέτιξ with the Greeks, and by Cicada with the Latines; we may with safety affirm the picture is widely mistaken, and that for ought enquiry can inform, there is no such insect in England.[19]

Browne revisited the controversy in his Miscellany Tracts (1684), wherein he takes pains (even citing Aristotle's Animalia) to both indicate the relationship of locusts to grasshoppers and to affirm their like disparateness from cicadas:

That which we commonly call a Grashopper, and the French Saulterelle being one kind of Locust, so rendered in the plague of Ægypt, and in old Saxon named Gersthop.[20]

Compound words involving "locust" have also been used by anglophone translators as calques of archaic Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, or other language names for animals; the resulting formations have, just as in the case of the Brownian grasshopper/cicada controversy, been, at times, a cause of lexical ambiguity and false polysemy in English. An instance of this appears in a translation of Pliny included in J.W. McCrindle's book Ancient India as Described in Classical Literature, where an Indian gem is said by the Roman historian to have a "surface [that] is even redder than the shells of the sea-locust."[21]


See also


External links

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

Of all the insects the locust is most frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. It occurs under the following nine names, which probably denote different species; but there is no certain clue by which the exact species intended by each name can be identified: (1) "arbeh" (A. V. sometimes "grasshopper"), the most common term, comprising the whole genus; (2) "sol'am," derived by Ibn Ezra from "sela'" = "rock" (rock-locust; A. V. "bald Locust"); (3) "ḥargol" (a. V. "beetle"; R. V. "cricket"; Jewish Exegetes, "grasshopper"; Comp. Arabic "ḥarjal" = "a troop of horses," or "locust," from "ḥarjala" = "to hop," "to jump"); (4) "ḥagab" (A. V. usually "grasshopper"; seems likewise to be used in a general sense in Num 13:33; Isa 40:22); (5) "ḥasil" (1 Kg 8:37; Ps 7846); (6) "gazam" (Joel 1:4; Amos 4:9), usually rendered "palmer-worm"; (7) "yeleḳ" (Jer 51:27; Nah 3:15; LXX. and Vulgate, "bronchos"; R. V. "canker-worm"); (8) "ẓelaẓal" (Deut 28:42) may be an onomatopœic designation of locusts in general; (9) "gebim" and "gobai" (Nah 3:17; Amos 7:1; A. V. "grasshopper"; R. V. margin to the latter passage, "green worms") are probably also general terms. The first four species are enumerated among the "winged creeping things" which are allowed to be eaten, and are described as having "legs above their feet to leap withal upon the earth" (Lev 11:21 et seq.).

Upward of forty orthopterous insects have been discovered in Palestine. The Acrydium lineola, A. peregrinum, and the (Edipoda migratoria are counted among the most destructive, and are therefore the most dreaded.

The term "locusts" is sometimes used figuratively; e.g., for swarming hordes and mighty hosts (Jdg 6:5, vii. 12; Jer 46:23; Prov 30:28); for prancing horses (Joel 2:4; Job 39:20); as an emblem of voracious greed (Isa 33:4; Amos 7:1); of feebleness, insignificance, and perishableness (Num 13:33; Isa 40:22; Ps 10923; Nah 3:17).

The Talmud points out as the marks of the clean locust: four feet, two hopping legs, and four wings which are large enough to cover the body (Ḥul. 59a). Besides the species mentioned in the Old Testament the Talmud refers to many others (comp. Ḥul. 65). Public prayers were instituted against the plague of locusts (Ta'an. 14a, 19a). Some locusts, probably variegated, were the playthings of children (Shab. 90b). The egg of the ḥargol carried in the ear relieves earache (ib. 65a); while the left part of the "ẓipporat keramim" worn on the left side of the body preserves one's knowledge (ib. 90b; Tristram, "Nat. Hist." p. 306; Lewysohn, "Z. T." p. 285; Burckhardt, "Notes on the Bedouins," p. 269).

This article needs to be merged with Locust.
This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.
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