Collective motion and cannibalism in locust migratory bands. Academic Article uri icon


  • Plagues of mass migrating insects such as locusts are estimated to affect the livelihood of one in ten people on the planet [1]. Identification of generalities in the mechanisms underlying these mass movements will enhance our understanding of animal migration and collective behavior while potentially contributing to pest-management efforts. We provide evidence that coordinated mass migration in juvenile desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) is influenced strongly by cannibalistic interactions. Individuals in marching bands tend to bite others but risk being bitten themselves. Reduction of individuals' capacity to detect the approach of others from behind through abdominal denervation (1) decreases their probability to start moving, (2) dramatically reduces the mean proportion of moving individuals in groups, and (3) significantly increases cannibalism. Similarly, occlusion of the rear visual field inhibits individuals' propensity to march. Abdomen denervation did not influence the behavior of isolated locusts. When within groups, abdominal biting and the sight of others approaching from behind triggers movement, creating an autocatalytic feedback that results in directed mass migration. This "forced march" driven by cannibalistic interactions suggests that we need to reassess our view of both the selection pressure and mechanism that can result in the coordinated motion of such large insect groups.

published proceedings

  • Curr Biol

altmetric score

  • 73.952

author list (cited authors)

  • Bazazi, S., Buhl, J., Hale, J. J., Anstey, M. L., Sword, G. A., Simpson, S. J., & Couzin, I. D.

citation count

  • 220

complete list of authors

  • Bazazi, Sepideh||Buhl, Jerome||Hale, Joseph J||Anstey, Michael L||Sword, Gregory A||Simpson, Stephen J||Couzin, Iain D

publication date

  • May 2008