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Ancient Trans-Atlantic Swarm Brought Locusts To The New World

ScienceDaily (December 27, 2005)

Ancient Trans-Atlantic Swarm Brought Locusts To The New World

ScienceDaily (December 27, 2005)

Somewhere between three and five million years ago, a massive swarm of locusts took off from the west coast of Africa and made an unlikely voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to colonize the New World, says an international team of researchers. Credit : Image : Gregory Sword

Using genetic evidence from more than 20 species of locusts, scientists from the Universities of Toronto, Arizona, Maryland, Cornell University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have answered a long-standing conundrum : why are the closest relatives of the African desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) found in the New World, rather than Africa ? The desert locust is one of the world’s most economically important insects, and is capable of forming massive swarms that devastate crops.

How the locusts made the trans-Atlantic flight is unclear, since the insects don’t have enough fat to power a trip lasting several days. "One unlikely hypothesis is that while the locusts were flying across, as their brethren died and landed in the ocean, they formed huge floating mats of dead locusts," says Lovejoy. "The other locusts would land on these mats, rest and feed on the dead bodies, then take off and keep flying." Another possibility is that among the millions of swarming locusts were a few exceptional insects that somehow managed to survive the flight. Lovejoy adds that high-altitude winds would have been essential for the swarm’s flight. There is a modern-day example of this phenomenon — in October 1998, a swarm of desert locusts crossed the Atlantic, travelling from Africa to the Caribbean.

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The above story is based on materials provided by University of Toronto

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