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Locusts in Spain

July 23, 2004

The huge swarm of locusts which invaded Port de la Selva on the Costa Brava this week, spreading panic and hysteria among tourists and locals alike, is not related to the desert species which is causing so many problems in North Africa. Experts claim that this is an insect-eating, home-grown variety which has swarmed due to the rainy spring and early summer. Although it appears to be spreading out in the rest of Catalonia, authorities refuse to talk of a plague. Elsewhere autochthonous locust swarms are wrecking crops in Aragon and Castilla. The latter has carried out extensive crop spraying. But not only have the locusts been poisoned. Castilian beekeepers are up in arms. Apparently 8,000 beehives have been decimated by the pesticides. Locusts routinely swarm in the summer in Spain. Confusingly, locusts and lobsters are both called langostas in Spanish, and llagostas in Catalan.

On a much more serious note and to clear up any possible confusion with Spanish species here's the situation with the desert locust . The New Scientist warned on June 4th the impending desert locust plague which has since hit the Sahel. It noted:

Nine Spanish planes left for Morocco on Monday to spray insecticide across the land and kill the recent swarms. "It is a lot easier to control the plague in the desert than in Spain," Juan Peña, the head of the Spanish project, told El Pais newspaper.
However, experts have told New Scientist that fears that the swarms may hit Europe may be unfounded as this would require "unusual winds". Furthermore, locusts have never been known to thrive in Europe.
"The chances of the desert locust moving into Spain or anywhere in Europe and causing extensive damage to crops is extremely small," says Clive Elliott, senior officer of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation's locust and other migratory pests group.

According to the latest from the FAO, the 'unusual winds' have so far not blown this way.  This does however happen from time to time. In 1956 for example, it reached Extremadura. The plague seems to be a result of the particular conditions in the Southern Sahara in summer 2003, which was extraordinarily wet for the area. This enabled many, many of their eggs to hatch. Prevailing winds then slowly brought them north into the Maghreb where the swarm bred and laid eggs once again with this summer's catastrophic results. The swarm is thought to be the worst for 15 years. Mauritania is seriously afflicted and Algeria is suffering the worst locust plague in its history with 2 million hectares infested.
A map of the current situtation in Africa is available here .