Worrisome map shows billions of locusts pushing across North Africa


The U.N.'s latest map of locust risk in Africa and the Middle East (U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization)

If you thought the coming cicada wave was bad, look to North Africa and the Middle East for some perspective: Springtime locust migrations are just starting there, and eight countries could face serious crop damage and even famine, a U.N. report warns, as billions of bugs begin to hatch.

Locusts, unlike cicadas, can do far more than inconvenience their human cohabitants. According to National Geographic, swarms can reach sizes of 460 square miles, with 80 million to 160 million locusts per square mile, and each locust can eat its weight in plants each day. That works out to 423 million pounds of destroyed crops per day for a major swarm -- more than enough to cause famines in places like Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Senegal, where outbreaks have been so bad that NASA recorded the effects from space.

Madagascar is already suffering from this year’s swarms. The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization warned in March that locusts could cause hunger for up to 60 percent of the population, according to the BBC. The organization now has Sudan and Saudi Arabia on a watch list for serious crop threats and has listed a “potential threat to crops” in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Eritrea and Yemen.

The agency said there is no current threat in the rest of North Africa or the Middle East, but it points out that many locusts are still in the non-flying, adolescent “hopper” stage and could cause problems once they mature. For the record, groups of hoppers form “bands,” while groups of adults form, appropriately, “groups.” A large group becomes a swarm. As you can see on this map, there are dozens of groups and bands flitting around -- so some could become swarms.


The most recent threat assessment shows only two swarms:  in Saudia Arabia and in  Sudan. (U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization)

There is a silver lining, though: Many cultures consider locusts a delicacy, and as the FAO notes, they’re very high in protein. The organization recommends frying, roasting, boiling or barbecuing the bugs -- which might be a necessity, not a choice, in some areas where locusts devour food meant for people and farm animals.

“Tip: substitute locusts for chicken or pork,” the FAO adds, helpfully.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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