Unhatched locusts lurking in Negev prompt panic

Southern council leader warns of ‘natural disaster’ that eggs may unleash; locust expert says things ‘should be under control’

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Passover may be over, but southern Israel still fears the return of locusts that can destroy Israel’s crops.

The waves of locust swarms that crossed into Israel by the millions last month laid their eggs in the Negev Desert. Now their unhatched offspring — buried beneath the sand — are about to hatch, and Israeli farmers are concerned about hordes of locust nymphs rising and assaulting their crops.

Shmuel Rifman, head of the Ramat Negev Regional Council, on Sunday urged Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir to take action to prevent critical damage by the swarming insects.

Rifman warned that the millions of grasshoppers were likely to endanger agricultural lands situated in the southern Israeli regions of Eshkol and Ramat Negev.

“The coming hours are critical for forming a decision about the necessary action, including enlisting means of cropdusting [planes] and opening airstrips near the locusts’ hatching area,” he said.

Should Israel fail to adequately address the latest locust threat, “I fear we will face a natural disaster, which will severely harm agriculture in the northern and southern Negev,” Rifman wrote in the missive to Shamir.

The danger posed to Israel’s crops by these unhatched locust eggs is minimal, Dr. Yoram Yerushalmi, an Israeli expert on locusts, told The Times of Israel. He said the swarms that triggered a media craze last month were “not actually large numbers” — as locust swarms go — and that the offspring of the March swarms “should be under control.”

Yerushalmi explained that it takes approximately two weeks for nymphs to grow to a size capable of causing damage to crops, and that in the intervening period Israeli authorities should have ample time to prevent them from wreaking havoc.

The Agriculture Ministry said in a statement on Sunday that it would, at this stage, merely be monitoring the hatching locusts.

“Teams from the Agriculture Ministry and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority are monitoring the hatching areas and discerning the density [of insects] by area. The hatches are not in agricultural areas. Because maturation of the locusts takes time, future action will be decided in the coming days,” the communique said.

Yerushalmi said that such measures should be sufficient to thwart significant damage to farms and fields.

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