Flying Fury

by The Old Scott

When they come in their millions, with the sound of a mighty waterfall, they flutter down out of the sky like a dark obliterating cloud. Before them the land stretches away like a soft green blanket; but behind them they leave a stark dead landscape in which no shred of living green remains.

They are the dreaded locusts of the Mideast, which can strip all green vegetation from huge swaths of land as they migrate-sometimes for hundreds of miles. In that region they are one of the most feared of nature's plagues, and they have been around at least since that long-ago day that Moses commanded the king of Egypt to "Let my people go!"

Let the Bible describe the worst-but far from the only-such visitation: "And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind upon the land all that day, and all that night; and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts. And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such. For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt" (Ex. 10:13-15).

Locusts may exist for years without causing major damage, in what is called a "solitary phase." During this phase, they behave very much like their cousins, the grasshoppers. They look much like hoppers, too, in this stage, with about the same size and coloration.

No one knows exactly what causes a new generation of locusts to change, though many scientists think the transformation is triggered by a skimpy food supply, because of drought conditions. Whatever is the cause, it triggers a "swarming phase," and that starts with bigger-bodied, longer-winged locusts that are capable of traveling long distances.

They are also brighter colored, exchanging their dull green for bright yellow and even hues of pink or red. And they do not mature sexually for half a year-a very long time in the life of an insect. Furthermore, they tend to cluster together instead of each going its own way-hence the "swarm," which can number in the tens of millions.

When the swarm begins to migrate, it may well travel throughout each day until it reaches an area where there has been plenty of rain.  But en route the locusts in the van drop down to feed, letting the main swarm fly over them, and then rejoining the tail of the "cloud." Thus the swarm resembles a great revolving cloud, with the leading edge constantly falling to earth and the trailing edge continually being reinforced by those who have finished feeding.

It takes a lot of energy to fly most of each day, and that makes migrating locusts ravenous eaters. Each one will consume its own weight in plant leaves, stems, buds, fruit, or whatever, every day if it can.

The migration finally ends when the swarm finds a broad area where food is plentiful and the soil is moist enough for the locusts' eggs to survive. Shortly after laying their eggs, the locusts begin to die. Their mission in life has been fulfilled.  Their children will revert to the solitary phase for possibly many generations, until once again conditions are right to call forth the swarm-at least, that's the natural explanation. There is also undoubtedly also a spiritual dimension, as with the swarm that became one of the plagues of Egypt.

As far as evolution is concerned, we note that the choice of which type they will become is not up to the locusts-from the very first of their kind on down, for each time the switch was needed, it was needed immediately and in full. There were no millions of years to gradually build in little change after little change. Locusts were given their qualities by the One who brought them into existence.

Just so were we also endowed with the qualities which make us unique. We, too, can adapt to life as we find it, thanks to God who made us. Revelation 4:11 says in part: "for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created." God made us because He wants to enjoy our company! How wonderful!


The Mystery of Migration, Robin Baker, chief contributing ed., Viking Press, NY, 1981, pp. 80-86.

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