Invading Locust swarms swell to biblical proportionsgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
TUESDAY JUNE 19 2001 Invading swarms swell to biblical proportions BY ANJANA AHUJA THERE has never been a better time to be a locust. Poverty, environmental concerns, weather conditions and the haphazard placing of international borders across the former Soviet Union have combined to allow this destructive insect to proliferate quietly and with devastating results.
In China, prolonged periods of drought have stunted the long grasses that locusts favour as breeding grounds. They are turning instead to agricultural land.
Not only China and Russia are affected by the worst infestations of locusts for decades: vast areas of crops in Utah in America are being devoured by a plague of them.
In China and Russia, farmers are unable to afford pesticides to destroy locust eggs. The former Soviet republics have been particularly badly affected. The insects have been allowed to breed unchecked on abandoned farmland, and the piecemeal approach to spraying pesticide has allowed locust populations to develop at the seams between nations. Last year China blamed Kazakhstan’s lax pest control measures for an infestation.
Even where chemicals are available, a waning public appetite for them has allowed locust populations to flourish. In America, locusts and similar insects have profited from a ban on DDT. Substitute pesticides may be safer for human beings but they are not as deadly to the pests themselves. That is one reason why Utah is being plagued by Mormon crickets, which resemble locusts.
Once an anti-locust regime is relaxed, the insects take full advantage. Females lay about 200 eggs during their lifetime. These take less than a fortnight to mature into winged adults, able to begin the reproduction process anew.
If the pest is the migratory locust (Locusta migratoria), as seems to be the case in China and Russia, the effect of a swelling population can be catastrophic. This nomadic insect can spread itself hundreds of miles in search of virgin territory where it can establish new colonies. Changing weather conditions also allow the insects to live in habitats that were once closed to them.
The result has been a dramatic growth in numbers, which lead them to swarm. Locusts are harmless alone, but ruinous en masse. Scientists believe that when a locust population reaches a certain critical level, they suddenly stop being solitary insects and come together in one pernicious mass, hellbent on ravaging any crops in their path. Researchers can only guess at what triggers this transition from a solitary to a gregarious phase.
Meanwhile, some novel ways of dealing with the pest are suggested. The Food and Agriculture Organisation, the UN body that monitors locust infestations, lists recipes for boiling, roasting, grilling and barbecuing locusts, which are high in protein.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), June 18, 2001
TUESDAY JUNE 19 2001 Locust army marches on its stomach FROM GILES WHITTELL IN MOSCOW AND OLIVER AUGUST IN BEIJING PLAGUES of locusts are devastating crops from Central Asia to the American Midwest, sending farmers to the book of Exodus for salvation. Not since the Egyptians incurred the wrath of God have so many locusts had their day. A billion-strong army is on the move, stretching far beyond the more normal swarming grounds of Africa and the Middle East and threatening central Eurasia’s arable land in a pincer movement from each end of the Caspian Sea.
In China, hundreds of thousands of ducks are being flown to the northwest where locusts are taking over vast dried-out grasslands — in the worst affected areas of Xinjiang province up to 10,000 inhabit one square metre.
The ducks are trained by government handlers to feed on the locusts — they can reportedly eat a pound of them a day — and are then flown to the afflicted region. The Government says it is more environmentally friendly than using planes to spray pesticides.
Southern Russia’s worst plague of locusts in 40 years is meanwhile advancing north by several miles a day and will start spreading ten times faster if not contained within a week, officials have said.
Yesterday the swarm was confined to a 170,000-acre swath of farmland in Dagestan near the Caspian Sea — an area about twice the size of the Isle of Wight — but it had destroyed 30,000 acres of wheat and was eating everything in its path, making the situation critical, according to the Emergency Situations Ministry in Moscow.
The insects have hopped and walked inland from the Kuma River estuary like grasshoppers. But experts called to the scene said that they would grow wings within a week, if allowed to, and would then be able to fly up to 30 miles a day.
In America, too, an agricultural emergency has been declared in Utah, where the “Mormon crickets” have so far caused $25 million of damage to crops.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), June 18, 2001.
The use of natural predators is an intelligent, relatively inexpensive, and safe way to deal with problems like this.
In the print edition of the San Diego Union, every week there is an "Earth Watch" column. On any given week, the impression conveyed is that the plagues of Revelation are upon us, and the world is coming to an end soon. Such insect plagues occur somewhere on the Earth almost continually. (This statement is not intended to minimize the seriuosness of this plague.)
It may be, however, that the sheer magnitude of this infestation is atypically severe, widespread, and enduring. If so, then it could be that Nature is finally beginning to "strike back" at Man's tinkering with the ecosystem. If this continues and escalates further, then it could indeed raise the real specter of "Revelation" level plagues.
There is great need for more scientific Ecology study and serious mathematical modeling of large biological ecosystems, to predict these occurrences, to facilitate rational policy decisions. However, since I am long term unemployed in my field as an experienced mathematical modeling systems analyst, I believe that this work is simply not being done.
-- Robert Riggs (email@example.com), June 19, 2001.
Hang in there Robert, I was out of work for 20 months during the last "recession". Have you joined a job club such as Experience Unlimited here in CA.? It is very rewarding and a great uplifting experience to go help others find employment and have them helping you.
-- PHO (firstname.lastname@example.org), June 19, 2001.
In response to another poster and "predators" and the problem of locusts. Its a small matter of turning the consumption of locusts into delicacies. Man is the greatest predator of all time. In no time at all the locust situation will be under control. Even better if locust are non-fattening. How about locust ice cream, anybody? Hmmm, better have marketing work on the name. How about Ben & Jerry's caramel locust and toffee swirl?
The idea is not so far fetched. If other societies can eat dog, eel and what have you, there is no reason why locust can't be a banquet.
-- Guy Daley (email@example.com), June 19, 2001.
Friday, 22 June 2001 15:45 (ET)
Locusts threaten Russia
MOSCOW, June 22 (UPI) -- A huge swarm of locusts is advancing in several directions from its base in southern Russia and has already devoured everything on hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland, officials in Stavropol region and the autonomous republic of Dagestan said Friday.
Russian television networks have reported a rapid advance of the ravenous swarms across southern Russia, where a chronic shortage of funds has left farms without insecticide to combat the locusts.
Further south, in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, officials were scrambling to release supplies of pesticides to farms closest to the Russian border in an attempt to prevent serious damage to crops.
And in Kazakhstan, officials are watching with growing alarm as the locusts approach the Central Asian state's borders from both east and west. Kazakhstan is preparing for an infestation of locusts sweeping up from Dagestan and Kalmykia across the northern part of the Caspian Sea, and a separate swathe of locusts moving rapidly from southern Siberia toward northeastern Kazakhstan's fertile fields.
Local officials in Dagestan condemned officials in Moscow for failing to act on their warning, stressing that the locusts' movements were limited while they could hop short distances, but in just two or three days time they will grow wings and will take flight, traveling as much as 40 miles a day in search of fresh crops.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), June 22, 2001.