Science!: Locust Swarms and Shoplifting

Lauren Admire | 31 May 2010 17:00

Locust Brain Grows 30 Percent When Swarming

We've heard of people changing their style to better fit in with the crowd, but swarming locusts not only change their color and body type, but their brains as well. Researcher Swidbert Ott and his team have found that a locust's brain swells 30 percent larger than its original size when in swarming mode.

Locusts often live solitary lives, but when food is low they begin to swarm with others of their kind, going into a far-ranging and often cannibalistic feeding frenzy. When locusts swarm, individuals experience changes in color and body type, and its brain swells. The portions of the brain that handle vision and smell reduce in size and the regions that handled learning and complex information swelled.

''Their bigger and profoundly different brains may help swarming locusts to survive in the cut-throat environment of a locust swarm,'' said Ott, from Cambridge University. ''Who gets to the food first wins, and if they don't watch out, they themselves become food for other locusts."

In previous studies, Ott located the hormone responsible to change a hermit locust into a gregarious socialite. Normally, locusts are solitary creatures, but in some situations, serotonin floods their brain and makes them join up with his buddies in a swarm.

Source: Discover Magazine

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