Locusts are generally known as pests of Biblical proportions; but did you know that they still exist today? Not only that; when they aren’t swarming, they often look and act a lot like any regular grasshopper. This may cause you to wonder: what are the differences between these two insects? Are they different forms of the same creature? What characteristics set them apart? Keep reading as we compare and contrast the locust vs. the grasshopper.
What You'll Learn Today
What is a Grasshopper?
A grasshopper is any of around 11,000 species of insects belonging to the family Acrididae. Grasshoppers are found in many different environments around the world and are present on every continent except Antarctica.
Grasshoppers come in different sizes and colors. They can range from less than half an inch to over four inches long, and they may be brown, tan, green, olive-colored, yellow, and even red.
Grasshoppers eat a wide variety of foods, most of which are plant-based. During times of food shortage, they may also turn to eating things such as other insects, fungi, and animal dung.
Grasshoppers are solitary creatures. They come together to mate but otherwise spend the majority of their lives alone.
After mating, female grasshoppers lay eggs in the soil. The nymphs that hatch from these eggs look like miniature versions of adult grasshoppers, and they shed their skin several times before reaching adulthood within a few weeks.
Grasshoppers have a lifespan of about a year in most cases. However, those kept in captivity in ideal living conditions can live longer.
What is a Locust?
Locusts also belong to the family Acrididae. There are only about 19 species of locust, most of which are found in parts of Africa and Asia.
Locusts look very much like grasshoppers and come in a similar range of sizes. They are typically brighter in color though and may come in shades of black, yellow, red, and green, and brown.
Locusts will eat various types of plants and will typically devour the entire plant: leaves, stems, flowers, fruits, grains, and seeds. During food shortages, they may turn cannibal and eat each other.
Locusts can live solitary lives, but they are known for congregating in massive swarms. These swarms can contain millions of individual locusts, consume as much as 400 million pounds of food a day, and can cover as much as 20 percent of the earth’s surface.
Locusts also lay their eggs in the soil, and the nymphs that hatch look like miniature versions of the adults. They shed their skin multiple times, becoming adults within a few weeks.
Locusts typically only live 3 to 6 months in the wild; it is unknown how long they could live in captivity.
Are Grasshoppers and Locusts the Same?
You have probably noticed that grasshoppers and locusts look very similar and share many traits. In fact, many people use the terms “locust” and “grasshopper” interchangeably.
But are they the same type of insect?
The short answer is yes, but it isn’t quite that simple. All locusts are grasshoppers, but not all grasshoppers become locusts.
Locusts belong to three specific Acrididae subfamilies: the spur-throated, band-winged, and slant-faced grasshoppers. With this in mind, they are, technically, grasshoppers.
What sets locusts apart from other grasshoppers is their behavior. Only the grasshoppers in these specific subfamilies have the ability to become locusts because no other species are able to exhibit the necessary behaviors.
What behaviors are we talking about? We’ll take a closer look in the following section.
In the meantime, check out this video to learn more about locusts and what sets them apart from other types of grasshoppers:
Grasshopper Vs. Locust: What are the Differences?
- Swarming tendencies: The most obvious difference between locusts and other types of grasshoppers is that locusts have the tendency to swarm. This tendency is triggered by a change of brain chemistry in certain grasshopper species; a rush of serotonin triggers them to morph from relatively harmless solitary grasshoppers into social creatures with devastating appetites.
- Colors: Locusts tend to take on brighter colors than the average grasshopper when they begin swarming. Yellow and black are common colors, though some may also take on shades of bright green, dark brown, or red.
- Diet: Both locusts and grasshoppers eat plant matter, but grasshoppers tend to have a more varied diet than locusts. For example, most locusts won’t eat animal feces, and they tend to be a little more picky about the types of plants they prefer.
- Distribution: The 11,000 species of grasshopper are widely distributed throughout the world. There are much fewer species of locusts, and they are most commonly found in parts of Africa and Asia.
- Toxicity: Grasshoppers can release odors or stomach enzymes to make themselves taste bad to predators, but locusts take this defense mechanism to a whole new level; they can emit toxins that will actually make predators sick. Their bright coloring serves as a warning to predators not to eat these foul-tasting morphed grasshoppers.
Locusts and grasshoppers are extremely similar; in fact, locusts are a type of grasshopper that exhibit specific social behaviors that aren’t normal to the vast majority of grasshopper species. The most obvious difference between locusts and other types of grasshoppers is that locusts can become social and congregate in great swarms; most other grasshoppers are solitary.