A swarm of desert locusts, which is a type of a species of short-horned grasshoppers. Innocuous when solitary, locusts undergo a behavioral change when their population builds up rapidly. They enter the ‘gregarious phase’ by forming huge swarms that can travel up to 150km per day, eating up every bit of greenery on their way. These insects feed on a large variety of crops. If not controlled, locust swarms can threaten the food security of a country.
The skies over six blocks in three districts of Maharashtra darkened on Tuesday as a swarm of locusts entered the state almost 17 years after the last rampant locust invasion. In India, locusts are normally seen in the monsoon season, July-October, along the Pakistan borders.
This year, the first sightings of small groups of locusts were reportedly early as per scientists of the Agriculture ministry’s Locust warning organization (LWO), from Sri Ganganagar and Jaisalmer districts of Rajasthan. This year, they are being seen in areas that are not associated with such sightings – Jaipur, Gwalior, Moreno, and Sheopur, and recently stray swarms have been spotted in Maharashtra’s Amaravati, Nagpur and Wardha districts.
These swarms of desert locusts have destroyed the crops in India’s heartland, threatening an already vulnerable region that is struggling with the economic cost of the pandemic – coronavirus lockdown. The insects are now appearing in locations where they have not been previously sighted, nibbling their way across large swathes of farmlands in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat states, too.
According to KL Gurjar, a top official of India’s Locust Warning Organization the locust swarm situation is extremely alarming. He said, “But we are more worried about their breeding. If that happens, it could be devastating for our farmlands.” Gurjar said India has not seen locust swarms on this scale since 1993 and the numbers of the fast-breeding insects could grow immensely before drier weather curbs their spread. He said higher than normal temperatures this year have helped the locusts to spread more rapidly.
Union Agriculture is taking measures for the same. Control involves spraying insecticide on locust’s night resting places like trees. India has put an order of 60 specialized insecticide sprayers with the United Kingdom. Gurjar said the country already has 50 such machines. “Also, drones will be used to spray the resting places”, he said.