Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: To be or not to be a locust? A comparative analysis of behavioral phase change in nymphs of Schistocerca americana and S. gregaria

Author
item Sword, Gregory

Submitted to: Journal of Insect Physiology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: April 2, 2003
Publication Date: July 1, 2003
Citation: Sword, G.A. 2003. To be or not to be a locust? A comparative analysis of behavioral phase change in nymphs of Schistocerca americana and S. gregaria. Journal of Insect Physiology. 47(7): 709-717.

Interpretive Summary: Phenotypic plasticity in behavior induced by high rearing density is often part of a migratory syndrome in insects called phase polyphenism. Among locust species, swarming and the expression of phase polyphenism are highly correlated. The american grasshopper, Schistocerca americana, rarely swarms even though it is closely related to the swarming Old World desert locust, S. gregaria, as well as two swarming New World locusts. Anecdotal field observations of locust-like behavior in S. americana indicate that it may express behavioral phase polyphenism, but empirical investigations are lacking. In this study, I tested the hypothesis that S. americana expresses locust-like density-dependent changes in behavior during both the first and final nymphal instars. I then compared the expression of behavioral phase change between S. americana and S. gregaria. First instar S. americana exhibited significant geographic variation in behavior with grasshoppers from a North Carolina population expressing more pronounced density-dependent changes relative to grasshoppers from a Texas population. The behavior of final instar S. americana was only slightly affected by rearing density and there was no evidence for a difference between populations. Comparison with S. gregaria revealed that the magnitude of density-dependent behavioral change, particularly among final instar nymphs, was much reduced in S. americana.

Technical Abstract: Phenotypic plasticity in behavior induced by high rearing density is often part of a migratory syndrome in insects called phase polyphenism. Among locust species, swarming and the expression of phase polyphenism are highly correlated. The american grasshopper, Schistocerca americana, rarely swarms even though it is closely related to the swarming Old World desert locust, S. gregaria, as well as two swarming New World locusts. Anecdotal field observations of locust-like behavior in S. americana indicate that it may express behavioral phase polyphenism, but empirical investigations are lacking. In this study, I tested the hypothesis that S. americana expresses locust-like density-dependent changes in behavior during both the first and final nymphal instars. I then compared the expression of behavioral phase change between S. americana and S. gregaria. First instar S. americana exhibited significant geographic variation in behavior with grasshoppers from a North Carolina population expressing more pronounced density-dependent changes relative to grasshoppers from a Texas population. The behavior of final instar S. americana was only slightly affected by rearing density and there was no evidence for a difference between populations. Comparison with S. gregaria revealed that the magnitude of density-dependent behavioral change, particularly among final instar nymphs, was much reduced in S. americana.

Last Modified: 11/20/2014