Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Swarming locusts need larger brains

Date:
May 26, 2010
Source:
University of Cambridge
Summary:
One of the most devastating events in the insect world -- the locust swarm -- has extraordinary effects on the insect's brains, scientists have discovered.

One of the most devastating events in the insect world -- the locust swarm -- has extraordinary effects on the insect's brains, scientists in Cambridge have discovered.
Credit: iStockphoto/Ruvan Boshoff

One of the most devastating events in the insect world -- the locust swarm -- has extraordinary effects on the insect's brains, scientists in Cambridge have discovered.

Although desert locusts are infamous for their swarming behaviour -- when they migrate en masse and consume everything in their path -- they usually occur in a solitary form, living alone and actively avoiding fellow locusts.

Working with colonies of swarming (gregarious) locusts, Dr Swidbert Ott and Dr Stephen Rogers of the University of Cambridge, converted some of them into the solitary phase by keeping them in isolation for three generations.

When they then compared the size and shape of the locusts' brains, they found that extraordinary changes had taken place.

Despite being smaller than solitary locusts, swarming locusts developed brains that were 30% larger. Not only that, regions of the brain that are dedicated to different tasks had very different proportions in the two phases.

In the solitary locust the parts of the brain that deal with vision and smell are proportionately larger, possibly helping them to detect faint or distant stimuli, whereas in the swarming locust huge increases in size occur in the parts of the brain associated with learning and processing complex information.

Swarming locusts need these larger brains to cope with the challenges of a life on the move that can take them across continents in a milling mass of other locusts, and to deal with the intense competition that dominates their existence, Dr Ott believes.

"Their bigger and profoundly different brains may help swarming locusts to survive in the cut-throat environment of a locust swarm. Who gets to the food first wins and if they don't watch out, they themselves become food for other locusts. In a nutshell, you need to be brainier if you want to make it in the mayhem that is a locust swarm," he says.

He adds: "As swarming locusts move through the landscape, they face much more of a challenge in finding and assessing potential foods, which may be something new that they have never encountered before."

The challenges of living in large groups and of finding varied and unpredictable food sources are also believed to be key factors in explaining why some vertebrates have evolved particularly large brains.

Because desert locusts can transform between a solitary and a swarming phase, which look and behave very differently, they provide ideal opportunities for studying the relationship between an animal's lifestyle, its behaviour and its brain structure.

The results are published May 26 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Dr Ott is supported by a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, and his laboratory is funded through a grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

About locusts

Desert locusts (Schistocera gregaria) are one of the most devastating insect pests, affecting 20% of the world's land surface. Vast swarms containing billions of locusts stretching over many square kilometres periodically devastated parts of the USA at the time of the settlement of the West, and continue to inflict severe economic hardship on parts of Africa and China. In November 2008 swarms six kilometres long plagued Australia.

Locusts belong to the grasshopper family but unlike their harmless relatives they have the unusual ability to live in either a solitary or a gregarious state, with the genetic instructions for both packaged within a single genome.

Locusts originate from barren regions that see little rain. While unforgiving conditions prevail, locusts eke out a living as solitary individuals with a strong aversion to mingling with other locusts. When the rains come, the amount and quality of vegetation expands and the locusts can breed in large numbers.

In deserts, however, the rains are not sustained and food soon becomes more and more sparse. Thus large numbers of locusts are funnelled into dwindling patches of remaining vegetation where they are forced into close contact with each other. This crowding triggers a dramatic and rapid change in the locusts' behaviour: they become very mobile and they actively seek the company of other locusts. This new behaviour keeps the crowd together while the insects acquire distinctly different colours and large muscles that equip them for prolonged flights in swarms.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cambridge. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Swidbert R. Ott and Stephen M. Rogers. Gregarious desert locusts have substantially larger brains with altered proportions compared with the solitarious phase. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 26 May 2010

Cite This Page:

University of Cambridge. "Swarming locusts need larger brains." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 May 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100525202301.htm>.
University of Cambridge. (2010, May 26). Swarming locusts need larger brains. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100525202301.htm
University of Cambridge. "Swarming locusts need larger brains." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100525202301.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

The Great British Farmland Boom

The Great British Farmland Boom

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 17, 2014) Britain's troubled Co-operative Group is preparing to cash in on nearly 18,000 acres of farmland in one of the biggest UK land sales in decades. As Ivor Bennett reports, the market timing couldn't be better, with farmland prices soaring over 270 percent in the last 10 years. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the industry fell under intense scrutiny. Now, small underground nuclear power plants are being considered as the possible future of the nuclear energy. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Change of Diet Helps Crocodile Business

Change of Diet Helps Crocodile Business

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 16, 2014) Crocodile farming has been a challenge in Zimbabwe in recent years do the economic collapse and the financial crisis. But as Ciara Sutton reports one of Europe's biggest suppliers of skins to the luxury market has come up with an unusual survival strategy - vegetarian food. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Mt. Everest Helped Scientists Research Diabetes

How Mt. Everest Helped Scientists Research Diabetes

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) British researchers were able to use Mount Everest's low altitudes to study insulin resistance. They hope to find ways to treat diabetes. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins