What To Feed Locusts

Aug 9, 2019
Originally published on August 9, 2019 10:26 am

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Here at NPR, we've been trying to do more stories that answer people's questions about issues they face in their daily lives. NPR's Joe Palca apparently didn't get the memo because he's got a story with the answer to a question almost nobody has - what to feed a colony of captive locusts.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: To answer that question, it helps to go to Tempe, Ariz.

RICK OVERSON: We are inside one of the two main rooms of the locust lab here at Arizona State University. We affectionately refer to it as Hopper Town.

PALCA: Rick Overson is research manager of the lab. He and his colleagues are studying locusts to find better ways to prevent swarms from destroying crops. That's the story I came to do. But I got sidetracked by the question of how in the world you raise a colony of locusts.

OVERSON: It surprisingly is pretty challenging, which is something that's counterintuitive because out in the environment they're a pest that - people have a hard time getting rid of them.

PALCA: Overson says one of the big challenges was feeding them.

OVERSON: Locusts are voracious eaters. So there's a huge amount of food that goes into culturing them and constant cleaning. and so a lot of daily, boring work.

PALCA: What do they eat in the lab? Is there locust chow? Does Purina make locust chow?

OVERSON: (Laughter) So we actually do make an in-house version of locust chow.

PALCA: Overson says that chow is mainly used for special locusts on special diets.

OVERSON: The locust colony itself eats wheat grass, the same stuff you see at a juice bar, which we grow in high quantities in our hydroponics facility. And they also eat organic lettuce, pesticide-free, which we source from a local supplier, and wheat bran.

PALCA: Actually, my colleague Allison Aubrey says that's a reasonably healthy diet for a human. So if raising a locust colony isn't on your to-do list - and you might want to first check with the U.S. Department of Agriculture if it is - maybe there's something useful for you in this story after all. And I'm still working on that story about the lab's research. Joe Palca, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.