Pestforce Latest News: Pest or Best No. 3: The Grasshopper

Pest or Best No. 3: The Grasshopper

In this week’s pest or best, Pestforce is looking global and turning our focus to an insect that has the potential for international infamy in the pest category. We are, of course, talking about none other than the grasshopper.

Throughout most of its life, the benign grasshopper won’t cause much trouble to its human neighbours. Infestations of grasshoppers are rare rather than derigeur, meanwhile they fail to carry any diseases that are deemed harmful or potentially fatal to humans. However, when placed under certain conditions, the capacity for the grasshopper to become a serious player in the pest world sky-rockets ….

Drought, followed by rapid vegetation growth, triggers a change in the grasshopper’s brain…They begin swarm with members of their own species, breeding in abundance and becoming nomadic. As well as flying great distances, these grasshoppers consume most of the vegetation wherever they land. They morph into what are known as ‘locusts’!!

Locusts have been documented as a destructive insect force for millennia, devouring crops and forming the driver of famines and subsequent human migrations. Historically, we’ve had little ability as a species to counteract this swarming grasshopper menace, though from the 20th century the use catching machines, flame throwers and Organochloride Dieldrin (c. the 1950s) became the most effective forms of control. The latter was eventually banned on account of its detrimental impact to the food chain and was instead replaced by a substance called Metarhizium. A naturally-occurring fungus, Metarhizium kills grasshoppers without damaging other animals in the wider environment. Sprayed across affected areas by plane, the fungus’ contagious properties amongst grasshoppers means that it only needs to be implemented once to act as an effective control of a large locust swarm. Recent locust outbreaks in Australia and Israel still nevertheless show that the insect is a pest that can continue to cause significant damage to crops and livelihoods if left unchecked.

So while they are now deemed manageable pests for the best part of the time, the grasshopper in locust form remains a pest nonetheless! But are there any plus sides of this unassuming insect?

Ironically, ‘consumption’ is both the ‘pest’ and ‘best’ factor of this insect.  For while they are renown as a destructive consumer in the insect kingdom, their own status as ‘a food source’ is rising in prominence. Yielding five times as much protein per unit of fodder as cattle, the locust could become a serious contender of a new food staple as we look to support an ever-growing population. As much as 50% of their dry weight constitutes protein and their nutritional benefit has been enjoyed in African & Middle East cultures for many thousands of years.

So how to conclude our analysis of the grasshopper? A relatively benign and tasty insect which can now largely be controlled. Pestforce can see many 'best' qualities in this insect. In the UK, the dearth of 'swarming conditions' equally means we remain shielded against the grasshoppers worst excesses. However, it's capacity to turn into locust, and the damage that this particular type of grasshopper has exerted over humanity over generations, cannot be ignored. As our own climate changes, we at Pestforce are concerned about how the grasshopper may begin to prove more troublesome to the UK over the coming decades and will therefore remain steadfast in our conclusion the deem the grasshopper a true pest of the animal kingdom.