AskDefine | Define locust

Dictionary Definition



1 migratory grasshoppers of warm regions having short antennae
2 hardwood from any of various locust trees
3 any of various hard-wooded trees of the family Leguminosae [syn: locust tree]

User Contributed Dictionary



From Old (and modern) French locuste, from Latin locusta ‘locust, crustacean’. Compare lobster.




  1. A type of grasshopper in the family Acrididae that flies in swarms and is very destructive to crops and other vegetation.


Extensive Definition

Locust is the swarming phase of short-horned grasshoppers of the family Acrididae. The origins and an apparent extinction of certain species of locust—some of which reached 6 inches (15 cm) in length—are unclear.
These are species that can breed rapidly under suitable conditions and subsequently become gregarious and migratory. They form bands as nymphs and swarms as adults — both of which can travel great distances, rapidly stripping fields and greatly damaging crops.

Locust species

Main article: List of locust species
Though the female and the male look alike, they can be distinguished by looking at the end of their abdomen. The male has a boat-shaped tip while the female has two serrated valves that can be either apart or kept together. These valves aid in the digging of the hole in which an egg pod is deposited.

Locusts in history and literature


In Exodus, one of the Plagues of Egypt was a swarm of locusts.


In Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates says that locusts were once human. When the Muses first brought song into the world, the beauty so captivated some people that they forgot to eat and drink until they died. The Muses turned those unfortunate souls into locusts — singing their entire lives.


In her novel On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder writes of a "glittering cloud" of locusts so large it blocked out the sun as it approached. The swarm descended upon her family's farm near Walnut Grove, Minnesota, destroying a year's wheat crop and stripping the prairie bare of all vegetation.
Doris Lessing, the British writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature for the year 2007, vividly described a locust attack in her short story titled "A Mild Attack of Locusts". The story, published in the February 26 1956 issue of The New Yorker, is set in the South African countryside and describes how a family of farmers attempts to resist the attack, to prevent and minimize the damage and to come to terms with the loss of crops.
In Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, the cow herd experiences being in the path of a swarm of locusts whose passage lasts several hours and which strips the prairie grass around them down to the nub, and even chews on the cowboys' clothing.
In recent history, the punk rock band The Chiltons released a song entitled "the fog". In the song there are a number of gruesome images, and The Chiltons make their point clear. The world will soon be cleansed by the locust swarm or "fog" as they put it.
The 1978 film Days of Heaven depicts a swarm of locusts ravaging wheat fields of the Texas Panhandle, and the efforts of farmhands to eradicate the infestation.

Locusts as an experimental model

Locusts are used as models in many fields of biology, especially in the field of olfactory, visual and locomotor neurophysiology. It is one of the organisms for which scientists have obtained detailed data on information processing in the olfactory pathway of organisms. It is suitable for the above purposes because of the robustness of the preparation for electrophysiological experiments and ease of growing them.

Swarming behaviour and extinctions

Research at Cambridge University identified swarming behaviour as a response to overcrowding. Triggered by increased tactile stimulation of the hind legs, transformation of the locust to the swarming variety is merely induced by several contacts per minute over a four-hour period. It is estimated that the largest swarms have covered hundreds of square miles and consisted of many billions of locusts.
The extinction of the Rocky Mountain locust has been a source of puzzlement. Recent research suggests that the breeding grounds of this insect in the valleys of the Rocky Mountains came under sustained agricultural development during the large influx of gold miners, .


Related uses of the word "locust"

The words "lobster" and "locust" are both derived from the Vulgar Latin locusta, which was originally used to refer to various types of crustaceans and insects. Spanish has mostly preserved the original Latin usage, since the cognate term langosta can be used to refer both to a variety of lobster-like crustaceans and to the swarming grasshopper, while semantic confusion is avoided by employing qualifiers such as de tierra (of the land) when referring to grasshoppers, de mar and de rio (of the sea/of the river) when referring to lobsters and crayfish respectively. French presents an inverse case; during the 16th century, the word sauterelle (literally "little hopper") could mean either grasshopper or lobster (sauterelle de mer). In contemporary French usage, langouste is used almost exclusively to refer to the crustacean (two insect exceptions being the langouste de désert and the langouste de Provence). In certain regional varieties of English, "locust" can refer to the large swarming grasshopper, the cicada (which may also swarm), and rarely to the praying mantis ("praying locust").
The use of "locust" in English as a synonym for "lobster" has no grounding in anglophone tradition, and most modern instances of its use are usually calques of foreign expressions (e.g. "sea locust" as mistranslation of langouste de mer). There are, however, various species of crustaceans whose regional names include the word "locust." Thenus orientalis, for example, is sometimes referred to as the Flathead locust lobster (its French name, Cigale raquette, literally "raquet cicada," is yet another instance of the locust-cicada-lobster nomenclatural connection). Similarly, certain types of amphibians and birds are sometimes called "false locusts" in imitation of the Greek pseud(o)acris, a scientific name sometimes given to a species because of its perceived cricket-like chirping. Often the linguistic non-differentiation of animals that not only are regarded by science as different species, but that often exist in radically different environments, is the result of culturally perceived similarities between organisms, as well as of abstract associations formed within a particular group's mythology and folklore (see Cicada mythology). On a linguistic level, these cases also exemplify an extensively documented tendency, in many languages, towards conservatism and economy in neologization, with some languages historically only allowing for the expansion of meaning within already existing word-forms. Also of note is the fact that all three so-called locusts (the grasshopper, the cicada, and the lobster) have been a traditional source of food for various peoples around the world (see entomophagy).
The word "locust" has, at times, been employed controversially in English translations of Ancient Greek and Latin natural histories, as well as of Hebrew and Greek Bibles; such ambiguous renderings prompted the 17th-century polymath Thomas Browne to include in the Fifth Book of his Pseudodoxia Epidemica an essay entitled Of the Picture of a Grashopper, it begins: Browne revisited the controversy in his Miscellany Tracts (1684), wherein he takes pains (even citing Aristotle's Animalia) to both indicate the relationship of locusts to grasshoppers and to affirm their like disparateness from cicadas: Compound words involving "locust" have also been used by anglophone translators as calques of archaic Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, or other language names for animals; the resulting formations have, just as in the case of the Brownian grasshopper/cicada controversy, been, at times, a cause of lexical ambiguity and false polysemy in English. An instance of this appears in a translation of Pliny included in J.W. McCrindle's book Ancient India as Described in Classical Literature, where an Indian gem is said by the Roman historian to have a "surface [that] is even redder than the shells of the sea-locust."


locust in German: Heuschrecke
locust in Spanish: Langosta (insecto)
locust in Esperanto: Akrido
locust in French: Locuste
locust in Ido: Akrido
locust in Japanese: イナゴ
locust in Hebrew: ארבה
locust in Swahili (macrolanguage): Nzige
locust in Luxembourgish: Heesprénger
locust in Dutch: Treksprinkhaan
locust in Polish: Szarańcza
locust in Russian: Саранча
locust in Finnish: Kulkusirkat
locust in Ukrainian: Сарана
locust in Chinese: 蝗蟲
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