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Locusts Vs Grasshoppers [4 Key Differences]

All 27 species of locusts are in the grasshopper family Acrididae, so locusts are a type of grasshopper. However, you can tell locusts apart from grasshoppers based on a few key traits. First, locusts have the ability to form enormous migratory swarms that contain tens of millions of individual locusts. Locusts also have longer wings that allow them to fly further than other species of grasshopper. Swarming locusts are also more vibrantly colored than other grasshoppers, so they can be told apart on sight. Finally, locusts have a different life cycle than other grasshoppers and live much shorter lives.

Locust vs Grasshopper

Are Grasshoppers and Locusts the Same?

Locusts are a type of grasshopper. Swarming grasshoppers are called “locusts” based on their behavior and appearance. So, all locusts are grasshoppers, but not all grasshoppers are locusts.

  • Locusts are a kind of grasshopper that go through a phase of physical and behavioral change.
  • Out of the 11,000 types of grasshopper, only 27 species of grasshopper are considered to be locusts.
  • Locusts form swarms, which are enormous groups containing tens of millions of individuals.
  • Locusts have different physical characteristics than other grasshoppers.

Locusts have features that other grasshoppers lack, but scientists are still unsure as to why. It has been suggested that locusts evolved their swarming behavior as a way of protecting themselves from predators.

Do Grasshoppers Turn into Locusts?

Only a few species of short-horned grasshoppers that can swarm are referred to as locusts. When locusts are in their swarming phase they change physically and form large groups with each other. Non-locust grasshoppers cannot change and will not form large swarms.

  • Some grasshopper species can transform into locusts if conditions are correct.
  • Locusts transform due to environmental conditions, such as when they are in large groups.
  • The changes locusts go through allow for migration and reproduction.
  • Locusts will look and act differently from a solitary grasshopper.
  • Grasshoppers that are not locusts do not experience phase change nor do they travel in swarms.

A large number of locusts being in the same area can trigger their transformation. They will then crowd together to form a swarm. When not swarming, locusts may appear more like other grasshoppers. So, a single locust will act like a grasshopper.

4 Differences Between Locusts and Grasshoppers

Locusts vs. Grasshoppers infographic

Locusts differ from other grasshoppers in a few ways. Their behavior—along with their appearance and lifecycle—set locusts apart from other grasshoppers. Here are the essential differences between the migratory locust and the ordinary grasshopper:

Swarming Behavior

The biggest difference between a locust and other grasshoppers is their ability to gather in swarms. Grasshoppers are solitary creatures that come together only to mate. Locusts, on the other hand, form giant swarms, migrate, and cause agricultural destruction. So, if you see a large group of grasshoppers together, it’s safe to assume you’ve found locusts.

  • Locusts can come together to form large swarms—other grasshoppers do not.
  • Locusts have a higher metabolic rate when swarming and eat more food than other grasshoppers.
  • The large numbers and appetite of locusts can completely devastate crops.

When they swarm and migrate, locusts need more food for energy than the average grasshopper. Because locusts gather in such large numbers and eat more than usual, they are considered agricultural pests. Swarming locusts have been doing damage to crops for thousands of years.

Sustained Flight

Locusts have longer, stronger wings than other grasshoppers. This enables them to fly and migrate long distances. Grasshoppers have smaller wings that are not capable of sustained flight. If you spot a grasshopper that has wings that are longer than its body, it’s probably a locust.

  • Unlike grasshoppers, locusts can fly and migrate over long distances.
  • Grasshoppers do not fly but rather use wings to aid their hopping.
  • Locusts typically have wings that extend past their body when folded—grasshopper wings are shorter than their body.
  • Locusts can fly for miles without stopping. Grasshoppers only fly for about 40 feet (10 meters) at a time.

Observe the activity of the insect you’ve spotted to see if it’s a grasshopper or a locust. When disturbed, a grasshopper can fly for a maximum of 40 feet (10 meters) before landing again. In contrast, locusts can fly for miles. A grasshopper flying for a long distance at a high altitude is definitely a locust.

Colorful Appearance

Locusts have the ability to change physically based on environmental conditions. A regular grasshopper cannot shift its appearance based on its environment. A locust will most resemble a typical grasshopper when in its solitarious phase, during which its colors are typically duller. In the gregarious phase (when they form swarms) a locust will often have vibrant coloration.

  • Locusts are capable of changing their appearance when they begin swarming.
  • When they are swarming, locusts are often very colorful—some species can have red, black, or orange markings.
  • Grasshoppers are typically green, brown, or tan.
  • Because some grasshopper species are colorful, look for other signs that you have found a locust.

The ability of a locust to change between the two phases is called phenotypic plasticity. This trait allows a green grasshopper to turn into a brightly colored locust. The common milkweed locust turns bright red when it enters its gregarious phase. So, the presence of bright markings may mean you’ve found a locust instead of a grasshopper.

Lifecycle

The last major difference between locust species and other grasshoppers is their development. Locusts do not live as long as grasshoppers, but they have the ability to change phases and live differently from their grasshopper relatives.

  • A locust takes about 8 weeks to reach adulthood and lives anywhere from 3–5 months.
  • Grasshoppers mature at the same rate as locusts but they can live up to 12 months.
  • Locusts can switch between social and antisocial phases based on rainfall, the presence of other locusts, and/or serotonin levels in their brain.
  • Solitary locusts act antisocially and gregarious locusts are highly social.
  • Locusts can be in either phase when they hatch and can switch between the phases prior to adulthood.

While grasshoppers reach maturity and live for up to a year with the same coloration and markings, locusts can undergo drastic changes. In the short 3–5-month lifespan of a locust, it may change from a solitary grasshopper to a swarm-forming locust.

What are the Differences Between Grasshoppers and Locusts?

Locusts are a distinct type of grasshopper with their own unique features. They look a lot like other grasshoppers, but their behavior and lifestyle are extremely different. Use these signs to tell grasshoppers and locusts apart:

  • Unlike other grasshoppers, locusts can form swarms that travel long distances together.
  • Locusts have long wings that often extend past the end of their body when the wings are folded.
  • Grasshopper wings are shorter than their body when they are folded.
  • Locusts are capable of flying for miles without stopping.
  • Grasshoppers can only fly about 40 feet (10 meters) at a time.
  • Locusts can change their physical appearance, often going from drab colors to bright coloration when they gather in swarms.
  • Grasshoppers that are not locusts do not experience any change in their physical form besides normal growth.
  • Locusts live about ¼ of the lifespan of other grasshoppers.

Although locusts are often considered an agricultural pest that devastate crops, they are also fascinating insects. Their ability to change their appearance and flying capabilities throughout their life makes them a very unique type of grasshopper.

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