The COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest catastrophe to hit parts of Africa and Asia. Those areas were already dealing with another form of devastation this year, swarms of locusts. The swarms can cover hundreds of square miles, travel up to 100 miles per day, contain more than one billion bugs, and eat literally tons of food, wiping out crops and leaving farmers both destitute and hungry.
Now scientists have identified a chemical compound released by locusts that causes them to swarm, which should allow them to find ways to prevent these clouds of insects from devastating crops.
Called 4-vinylanisole (4VA), the pheromone is primarily released from the hind legs and is detected by the antennae of other locusts. 4VA acts as a powerful agent that attracts locusts of any age or sex, and is triggered in the insects when as few as four to five solitary locusts came together, precipitating swarming behavior.
Lead researcher, Le Kang, a professor of entomology and ecology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Zoology, said:
“In human history, locust plagues, drought and flood were considered as three major natural disasters which caused serious agricultural and economic losses all over the world. As the most widely distributed and one of the most dangerous locust species, the migratory locust represents a serious threat to agriculture worldwide.”
The hope is that scientists can create a chemical that will block the production of 4VA to stop the bugs from swarming, and they won’t have to rely on pesticides anymore, which carry their own risks.