Which Insect Makes the Biggest Swarm?

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Honey bees swarm, ants swarm, termites swarm, and even gnats swarm. But none of these swarming insects comes close to holding the world record for the biggest swarm. Which insect makes the biggest swarm?

It's not even close – locusts make the biggest swarm of any other insects on earth. Migratory locusts are short-horned grasshoppers that go through phases of gregariousness. When resources become scarce to an overcrowded population of locusts, they move en masse to find food and a little "elbow" room.

Just how large is a locust swarm? Locust swarms can number in the hundreds of millions, with densities of up to 500 tons of locusts per square mile. Imagine the ground covered in grasshoppers so thick you can't walk without stepping on them, and the sky so filled with locusts that you can't see the sun. Together, this massive army can march hundreds of miles, consuming every last leaf and blade of grass in their path.

According to the Bible, Jehovah used a swarm of locusts to persuade Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go free. The locusts were the eighth of ten plagues suffered by the Egyptians.

"For if you refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country, and they shall cover the face of the land, so that no one can see the land. And they shall eat what is left to you after the hail, and they shall eat every tree of yours that grows in the field, and they shall fill your houses and the houses of all your servants and of all the Egyptians, as neither your fathers nor your grandfathers have seen, from the day they came on earth to this day."
– Exodus 10:4-6

In modern day, the record for the biggest swarm goes to the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria. In 1954, a series of 50 swarms of desert locusts invaded Kenya. Researchers used airplanes to fly over the locust invasion and took estimates on the ground to put the swarm in numerical context.

The largest of the 50 Kenyan locust swarms covered 200 square kilometers and involved an estimated 10 billion individual locusts.

In total, 100,000 tons of locusts descended on this African nation in 1954, covering a total area of 1000 square kilometers. About 50 billion locusts devoured Kenya's flora.

Sources

  • Walker, T.J., ed. 2001. University of Florida Book of Insect Records, 2001. http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/walker/ufbir/.
  • The Handy Bug Answer Book, Dr. Gilbert Waldbauer, 2005.
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Hadley, Debbie. "Which Insect Makes the Biggest Swarm?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 15, 2017, thoughtco.com/which-insect-makes-the-biggest-swarm-1968335. Hadley, Debbie. (2017, April 15). Which Insect Makes the Biggest Swarm? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/which-insect-makes-the-biggest-swarm-1968335 Hadley, Debbie. "Which Insect Makes the Biggest Swarm?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/which-insect-makes-the-biggest-swarm-1968335 (accessed January 21, 2018).