No, these aren’t fields blossoming with yellow flowers. It’s a swarm of ravenous locusts.
A biologist at Penn State University, David Hughes, posted footage of locusts swarming over Kenya on Saturday. Hughes is working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN FAO) to research the growing locust plagues in Kenya — which the U.N. says could be the worst in 70 years.
Locust plagues, numbering in the billions of frenzied, flying grasshoppers, are essentially impossible to stop once they’ve grown wings and swarm over hundreds of square miles of land, “We’re not going to solve this problem as a human society anytime soon,” Rick Overson, the research coordinator at Arizona State University’s Global Locust Initiative, told Mashable in January.
The two videos below, posted by Hughes, show the current swarms in Kenya. In the first video, a likely member of a locust survey runs through the yellow swarm to illustrate the insects’ massive numbers.
Locusts are grasshopper species that, under the right environmental conditions, undergo dramatic transformations, often changing color, growing larger muscles, developing wings, and transitioning from solitary creatures to intensely social, swarming animals.
One of these environmental conditions is a strong rainy season that (along with other factors) can set the stage for robust locust breeding. Since Oct. 2019, East Africa has been hit with unusually heavy rains, noted the World Meteorological Organization.
East Africa’s heavy rains may have been boosted by the warming climate, too. The powerful storms were stoked by a normal climate pattern that creates warmer temperatures in the Indian Ocean, known as the Indian Ocean Dipole.
But, “Global warming is making these dipoles stronger,” Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, said in a statement. “The Indian Ocean Dipole of 2019 was particularly stronger than the earlier ones. As a result, the cyclone activity over the west Indian Ocean was also exceptional — in terms of the number of cyclones and intensity.”
Over 90 percent of the heat trapped on Earth by humans gets soaked up by the seas, which boosts overall ocean temperatures.
The current locust swarms aren’t expected to die out anytime soon. In fact, the Climate Prediction and Application Center (ICPAC), an intergovernmental African organization, warns that eggs laid by the current swarm of locusts will hatch in March and April, which will create a “second round of invasion.”
Locusts frequently devour crops, which, critically, are often people’s sustenance. “Under a worse-case scenario, the desert locusts will invade key production areas/bread-baskets of the region and cause significant crop losses during the March to May cropping season, and could potentially worsen the food security situation,” ICPAC said.
To fend off future super-swarms, the U.N. and locust researchers must dramatically improve predictions of where and when the swarms will form, so nations can quell the locust populations with chemical insecticides before they become untamable plagues.
But locust species inhabit some 6 million square miles of land in Africa and the Middle East — so it’s daunting to pinpoint where, exactly, the locusts will start swarming.
“It’s not surprising to me that we still don’t have a grip on this,” Iain Couzin, the director of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior who researches locust swarms, told Mashable in January.
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