The word locust often conjures up biblical imagery, skies darkened by millions of insects, fields devoured, and starvation following the infestation. The reason behind the aggressive swarming behavior has not been understood, but researchers led by entomologist Michael L. Anstey of the University of Oxford think they may have found the answer.

Serotonin.

The same neurotransmitter that regulates aggression, sleep, metabolism, and body temperature in humans may be the one responsible for changing locusts from passive solitary grazers, into aggressive swarmers. Researchers found that injecting normal, green grasshoppers with serotonin or chemicals that increase serotonin levels caused them to change into the larger, brown locusts. Conversely, decreasing serotonin levels prevented the transformation.

Locusts swarm in the billions and destroy entire crops when they swarm over agricultural areas. Prevention could mean saving an entire years harvest from destruction.  Scientists hope to use this research to find a way to block serotonin in wild locust populations and curb the destruction that they can cause.

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