A plague of locusts that has been creeping across the Middle East is set to hit Israel just in time for the Passover holiday, commemorating the original pre-Exodus plague in Egypt.
The locusts began swarming on the Red Sea coast of Eritrea and Sudan in December. A desert variety of the insect is always present in these areas but the population remains limited unless certain conditions are present. Overcrowding changes both their behavior and physiology. They develop bright colors and form huge swarms in which they fly long distances to new pastures. Locusts are not harmful to humans but swarms of locusts can be miles long and contain a billion individuals.
“Swarms are often tens of square kilometers in size,” the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) charged with monitoring locust outbreaks explained. The FAO warned that a swarm of just one square kilometer eats the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people. “A swarm the size of Bamako (Mali) or Niamey (Niger) can consume what half the population of either country would eat in a single day.”
The FAO reported that in the past two weeks, there has been an escalation in second-generation hatching and hopper band formation along both sides of the Red Sea. One swarm arrived in Iran at the end of January. Ground and air crews are already hard at work in Egypt and Saudi Arabia trying to control the infestation.
The swarms also can travel 93 miles a day making efforts to control an outbreak even more difficult. Officials warned that further rains in the region could lead to an even larger outbreak.
A similar infestation that took place exactly six years ago in southern Israel was successfully controlled. In 1915, a locust swarm in then-Palestine led to regional famine.
Though most insects are not kosher and unfit for Jewish consumption, there are four varieties of the insects that are listed as kosher. Some might even consider it fitting to dine on locusts during the Passover Seder ceremony.
Of these you may eat the following: locusts of every variety; all varieties of bald locust; crickets of every variety; and all varieties of grasshopper. Leviticus 11:22
The concept is highly appealing since they do not require ritual slaughtering and according to some opinions may even be consumed live. The flesh of locusts is parve and can be served with either dairy or meat.
Rabbi Natan Slifkin, director of the Biblical Museum of Natural History, holds an annual banquet featuring, among other unusual delicacies, locusts dipped in chocolate and caramel.