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Common name:

Scientific name:  Schistocerca gregaria  ???

Commercial breeders have some techniques and equipment that will not be disclosed on this page.  Commercial knowledge has considerable value.  Some pieces of equipment are very cheap and simple, but until they are more widely and openly discussed I will maintain the confidentiality.  It will not detract from the following information as the undisclosed information or equipment relates to time savings or efficiency gains.  The overall methodology remains the same.

Visual characteristics:

  • Life cycle: about 3 months
  • Developmental stages:  Egg - nymph with 5 instar stages- winged adult.
  • Size: (approx) adults 60 mm long.
  • Colour:
  • Weight:
  • Adults:  Wings = Yes.   Flight = Yes.  Flight frequency = Often / Rarely / Never

Fed to: Depending on the size of locust chosen,  these insects can be fed to:  Birds - most finches, softbills, weavers, whydahs, waxbills, quail and some parrots.  Marsupials, reptiles, frogs, rodents, fish, spiders, scorpions, etc.

Cost:  Adults 50 cents each or more.  Nymphs-varies according to size.  Available all year round from specialist breeders.  Generally not available in retail shops.

Breeding of the locust requires a large investment in a fully insulated production room and the necessity to grow the cereal grass needed to feed the insects.  There is no avenue to cut corners with this insect.  Fail at even one stage and the whole system can come to a sudden stop.  Heat, hygiene and a never ending supply of fresh green feed.

The production routine is simple, the feeding is simple, the facilities are simple, hygiene routine is simple.  It is no fun working in 35 degree Celsius room for long especially as a face mask should always be used when in the room with the locusts.  A cage 500 mm x 500 mm x 500 will only hold about 200 adults and you have to keep the sizes separate so if you need to produce just 200 adults per week it will be necessary to have 12 cages in use at all times.  A big cage volume for a little return.

Locusts Eat:  Essential food is growing cereal grasses with a side dish of wheat bran.  Optional extra is compressed dry lucerne cubes.

Preferred facilities and husbandry:  For breeders or holding large quantities.

General information:  From my view point the raising of insects is simple if some basic rules are followed.  Firstly, put aside all the ideas you currently have and review what is to come.  The locust is the most expensive insect you would want to breed.

Insect production is no different to the production of any other animals.  Give them an environment suitable for their growth and breeding, plus adequate food and moisture and keep them safe from predators and minimize disease contamination.

Facilities:  Two are essential.

First.  For the production of uniform size locusts a constant even temperature of about 35 degrees Celsius (and that includes 4 AM in the morning in winter when the owner is snuggled up in bed) with a humidity of as little as possible is necessary.  The alternative is to have a two heat level system.  Lower temperature at night and full temperature during the day.  The varying temperature routine produces insects of a non uniform size.  An insulated room or cabinet is required to maintain these levels.  No cheap insulation short cuts here.  The use of 125 mm or 150 mm thick insulated panel walls and roof for larger breeding rooms is an essential investment and repays the investment very quickly with cost effective heating costs.  The room or cabinet should have a fan assisted ventilation system to remove the stale air and supply clean fresh air.  Inside the room it is essential to have a fan operating 24 hours a day to maintain even distribution of heat and humidity.  Poor air movement increases the chances of high humidity pockets and the likely hood of mould or mildew occurring.  Poor air movement increases the chance of an outbreak of mites.  The mites generally do no harm to the locust but mites can be very annoying after handling the boxes, feeling them crawling up your arms, face and body.

Second facility required for locusts.  A glass house, hot house or similar enclosed environment is essential.  The cereal grass cannot be grown outdoors subject to airborne diseases or parasites.  Hydroponic "fodder factories" are perfect.  It is not worth trying to breed locusts until you have mastered the art of growing cereal grasses to a height of approx 200 mm (8 inches) high.  The cereal grass production has to be done on a daily basis.  Two days without fresh cereal grass and the locusts start to die.  If you think you can just go out and collect grass from anywhere you will soon have the colony start to die.  There is an airborne disease (fungal) that is both naturally occurring as well as commercially produced and sprayed to kill plague locusts.  The infectious agent lands on grass, locusts eat the grass and are usually dead in about 24 hours.  The infection is specific to locusts.  The infection is highly contagious and difficult to eradicate from the locust breeding cages.

To grow a continuous supply of cereal grass in winter may require additional heated growing beds.

Vacuuming the breeding room floor minimizes the build up of mites as they generally like to spend a lot of their time at a lower temperature than the locusts.  The vacuum cleaner should be ducted externally to ensure any pathogens that pass through the vacuum cleaner filters do not get to contaminate the room.  Externally ducted systems remove the possibility of people inhaling allergens that get through the filters.  The airborne allergens from locusts are more dangerous to people than the allergens from most other insects. Inhaled allergens can, if one is susceptible, cause serious respiratory problems including triggering an asthma attack.  Vacuum the floor at least weekly and wash the floor with household floor disinfectant.  Clean the walls with a soft cloth about 3 monthly using a mild disinfectant or a dish washing detergent.  The intent of the wall cleaning is only to remove any build up of dust and fine particles.  Remove and wash the fan grill and blades as required.  When vacuuming look out for spiders and their webs and suck them up.

Without a fan the upper level boxes/trays have a constant higher heat level than lower boxes therefore influencing faster growth or the possibility of heat stress on those upper level boxes.

Light:  Locusts have a photoperiod regime so it is necessary to have timer controls on the lights.  Duration of light is 12 hours per day.  Fluorescent lights for the main lighting and incandescent lights for personal use when the fluorescent lights are off. 

Heating:  Two choices.  If the whole room is to be heated to the maximum required level, a good efficient, safe, reliable heater is essential.  Preferably electric as there is no danger of noxious fumes.

Second method is to heat the room to a lower temperature then provide each cage with an additional heat source usually a 60 watt tungsten filament light globe placed inside the cage.

Thermostat: A good accurate, reliable, thermostat is also essential.  In larger rooms the installation of double thermostats can be considered.  If a thermostat fails to turn the heater off the locust may get heat stressed and die.  With two thermostats correctly installed it is highly unlikely both will fail at the same time.

Externally vented extractor fans:  As well as removing stale air, externally vented extractor fans can be of immense help to rapidly remove excess humidity especially in summer or excess temperature during summer.

Racks:  Painted or surface treated steel racks are good, galvanized steel racks are even better.  Mites do not like the zinc coating.  Timber framed racks are very hard to keep clean and provide numerous places for mites to hide.

Feed storage:  For the dry cereal grain seeds, bran and compressed dry Lucerne cubes.

Rubbish removal:  Cages have to be cleaned three times per week.  Observe maximum hygiene when disposing of locust wastes.  Wearing hospital type face masks is essential.  See below:  "Respiratory and allergy precautions for humans".

Breeding cages:
The cages most commonly used are 500 mm x 500 mm x 500 mm with all walls and roof fly wire mesh supported on a metal frame.  Floor is either fly wire mesh or metal sheet.  Most have a clear Perspex sliding door.  The front of the cage can be hinged to allow easy cleaning.  This cage will hold about 500 small nymph size and the density has to be reduced as they grow till there is about 200 in the cage when adult size is reached.

As the nymphs removed from the cage either have to be sold, fed out, or placed in a fresh clean cage.

Dry Foods:
A shallow tray of coarse cereal bran.  Top up as required.

Their moisture is obtained from the fresh grass.

Adults take up to 3 weeks to become sexually mature and maximum egg laying occurs over the next 2 weeks.  They usually live for up to three months depending on available conditions.  Females lay the eggs into containers of moist sand and under good conditions about 80 % or more hatch.  When the females are past their best egg production feed them and the males off and start again with a fresh batch.

A wire mesh cage 500 mm x 500 mm x 500 mm should be able to accommodate about up to 200 adults depending on your skills and knowledge levels.  Over crowding can trigger a disease outbreak.

Nymphs (non winged juveniles):
From hatching to adulthood is about 35 to 45 days with temperatures of 30-35C, and good food availability.   If in a cage, the young fail to thrive and it is not temperature related, it may be parasite related and is generally best to dispose of the entire contents of the cage, thoroughly clean the cage and start afresh.  A simple microscope examination of the dissected locust is advised.  If rapid growth is not required, then the temperature can be reduced to as low as 20 degrees C for the nymphs.

The eggs are usually deposited in batches deep in the moist sand tray.  Time to hatch is about 16 days when incubated at 28-30 degrees C.  The hatchlings cannot get through fly wire.

Egg collection:
Adult locusts lay eggs where ever they find a moist place.  They need a suitable plastic disposable container and a suitable moist media in which to lay the eggs.  Moist clean washed river sand is the most commonly used media and placed into plastic disposable take away food containers (e.g. 500 ml with 45-50 mm deep sides).  The tray is placed in the breeder box near the front ensuring it is level.  Leave it in the cage for no longer than 48 hours.  Remove the egg tray, write the date the tray was removed on the tray, place in a sealed clear plastic bag and put it in an incubator at about 28- 30 degrees C or in a safe place in the breeding room.  At 30 degrees C the eggs start to hatch at about day 16.  Have a fresh, clean cage ready to put them into on day 15.  Never reuse the sand.  The trays can be reused after appropriate cleaning.    

Growth rates:
Assuming 35 degrees C is maintained 24 hours per day, the following is accurate.  For each 1 degree C decrease in average temperature the growth reduces by about 10 %.

Never add smaller locusts to an established cage.

Usually just caught individually by hand.  Use disposable gloves if you have skin sensitivity to the locusts (red skin rash).  Use a face mask.

Feeding out:
Due to their cost, locusts are usually fed out individually to animals in indoor cages either by hand or on the end of tweezers.  In outdoor or larger units the locusts are thrown in one or two at a time.  Bring the insects to the birds or animals in a container and give the container a wash before returning it into the insect production area.

To minimize the rate of escapees when feeding them out, one can quickly crush the locusts head with tweezers or between your thumb nail and index finger (wear disposable gloves if you like).  It will then be dead but move long enough to get the animal or reptile's attention and the locust is then quickly consumed. 

Storage of small quantities:

The same principles apply as per breeders but the temperature can be lowered to no less than 20 degrees C.  The usual mistake most people make is to use small, poorly ventilated containers.  The locust likes lots of space, ventilation and warmth.  The best locusts cage is all fly wire mesh.

Disease and infections:
Absolute Rule - If any locusts fall onto the floor they must NEVER be placed back into ANY cage!!  Throw them out or feed them out!!  The disease contamination risk is far too high!!

Never, never, never put or allow wild locusts get into the breeding room or any cages.  They are sure to be carrying diseases and / or parasites.

Locust colonies can very easily be wiped out by a variety of diseases caused by viruses and bacteria.  Moulds, fungi, internal and external parasites can quickly wipe out a colony.    Maintaining low humidity is essential to minimize the risk of a bacterial disease outbreak.  Mites are generally not a problem in locust breeding rooms due to the low (dry) humidity.  A mite infestation is an indication of either poor hygiene or poorly controlled environmental factors.  Mites can be a vector for the spread of diseases.  Government animal pathology laboratories and some private pathology laboratories are able to identify insect diseases and recommend appropriate treatments.  Over crowding is one of the most common triggers for the outbreak of diseases along with contaminated feed. Dirty contaminated hands and equipment will rapidly spread an infection throughout the room.

Golden rule : If you have a colony of insects that are breeding well, do not add any stages of the locust from any other outside source and in no circumstances allow any of the foreign frass or feed material into any of the places used for breeding your locusts.  Some commercial breeders and research laboratories have continuously bred locusts for over 20 years without the need to introduce new genetic lines.

If it becomes absolutely necessary to introduce more insects to your colony, make sure appropriate quarantine procedures are implemented. Place them in a cage of their own and not into a current colony.  If anything bad happens in that box, dispose of all the quarantined lot and implement strict disinfection procedures.  An infection can easily kill 100% of a colony and eradication can be a long arduous task.  The wire mesh cages are very hard to totally disinfect once contaminated.  At 30-35 degrees C, external or internal parasites can multiply at an amazing rate.

My philosophy is: prevention of disease outbreaks is better than having to cure the disease or parasite outbreaks (It's also cheaper).

Respiratory and allergy precautions for humans:   The following is applicable to all insects.

As stated above, the dusts in the breeding room and any fine insect tissues, when inhaled, can cause reactions requiring medical intervention.  The longer one inhales the contaminant the more severe the reaction can be.  The effect can be cumulative and the longer you breath it in, the longer it may take to cure (sometimes years).  The main contaminant is the (4) proteins in the insects frass (droppings/ excrement).  When this material is inhaled into susceptible peoples lungs, they may react badly.  General rule is never keep a breeding locust colony in a residential house.

While handling locusts, do not rub your eyes as the fine material can have an adverse reaction and cause strong eye irritation.  Wash hands and any exposed areas to minimize the risk of skin irritation after you finish your tasks.

It is unwise to use a broom or similar cleaning product in the breeding room to clean the floor as it is likely to stir up dust which can be inhaled or settle in a breeding box or on other equipment resulting in a disease outbreak.

When it comes to disposing of the frass (excrement) from the locust cage, take every conceivable measure to minimize the inhalation of any dust or material and to prevent its spread to others.  A wise precaution is to shower and wash your hair if you get contaminated.  Pop the cloths into the washing machine for a good wash before using them again.  Never go to bed with "bug dust" in your hair as you will inhale it throughout the night from on your pillow.

Locusts cause more health problems than most insects, both skin rashes and inhaled respiratory ailments.  Most people tolerate some degree of contamination but if you exceed the "trigger point threshold" and get a bad reaction, seek medical attention and tell the medico what you have been inhaling.  Medical respiratory allergy specialists are available in Capital cities if required.

My philosophy is: prevention of possible health problems is better than having to cure a real health problem (It's also cheaper).

  • Australian Aviculture Vol 48 No. 9 Sept 1994 Page 201-202

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