September 14, 2020
We stopped at one of Melissa’s favorite fast food places on our way home yesterday for lunch. I do not like cold fries, and we were still 20 minutes from home, so we decided to eat inside. As we were leaving, I noticed a huge locust sitting on the grille guards of a pickup truck parked in the next lot. It was about four inches long and about two inches in diameter. I was amazed at how large it was. As I looked closer, I noticed there was not one, but three, and all were equally spaced on separate parts of the guard (social distanced?). That was when I realized they were plastic.
I recall hearing about the billions of locusts which had swarmed during May of this year in Africa. Locusts and grasshoppers are the same in appearance, but locusts can exist in two different behavioral states (solitary and gregarious), whereas most grasshoppers do not. When the population density is low, locusts behave as individuals, much like grasshoppers. However, when locust population density is high, individuals undergo physiological and behavioral changes, known as phase polytheism, and they form gregariously behaving bands of nymphs or swarms of adults. The distinction between locusts and grasshoppers is often not clear-cut, and some species that are called grasshoppers, such as Austroicetes cruciata, Oedaleus australis and Peakesia spp. can form loose swarms at high densities, but do not generally migrate the long distances as locusts do.
Despite the size, it was the color of the locust that threw me off. I have seen three to four-inch locust in the Utah desert, but this one was a pale green, more like a grasshopper. Like their African cousins, the Utah locusts also swarm. This happened in 1848 when the early pioneers were preparing to bring in their first crop in the Salt Lake Valley. Just when all seemed to be lost a flock of sea gulls swooped in and began to gorge themselves on the insects and the crop was saved. This miraculous occurrence is why the sea gull is Utah’s state bird.
THOUGHTS: While the pioneers saw the locust as a plague, the indigenous populations believed them to be a boom. The locust fell into the Salt Lake, drowned and were salted, then dried along the shore, and were eaten as a welcomed snack. A friend of mine is an ethnoarchaeologist and studied the kilo-calorie return on locust. What he found was to get a similar return from a buffalo it would need to fall from the sky, land on a spit and be roasted over the fire without any energy expended by the person. The locust still offered more energy. It seems one person’s boon is another’s boom. It all comes down to your attitude. Change is coming and it starts with you.