Locusts on the wondow of Kiel Auguste’s home at Cachipe Village, Moruga .

An official from the Ministry of Agriculture said they will be visiting the residents at Cachipe in Moruga next Tuesday as they have been battling a massive locust invasion for several days.

But entomologists (scientists who study insects) have explained why so many locusts have swarmed the area.

They say there are 20 traditional locusts egg beds in South Trinidad but because of forest clearance, more egg beds are cropping up in non-traditional areas.

This was revealed by Chief Technical Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture Dr Simone Titus after swarms of hoppers entered Cachipe causing discomfort to scores of residents.

In an exclusive interview with Guardian Media, Titus said locusts bands in T&T are merging rather than remaining in separate bands while the infestations are spreading in non-traditional areas because of forest clearance.

But even as locusts continue to invade other communities like Granville and Point Coco, developers continued to clear acreages of State-owned land near the Chatham Forest Reserve (See other story).

Dr Titus said climate change may also be responsible for the changes being seen in the infestations annually.

“The ministry recognizes that the change in climatic conditions resulted globally in large outbreaks of locusts and it would be reasonable to assume, that the Moruga grasshopper may also be affected by the climatic change,” she said.

She added, “It was observed that the frequency of grasshoppers outbreaks appears to be in response to increased human activities in areas that were previously forested and perhaps part of their natural habitat.”

She said the Moruga Grasshopper or ‘Moruga Locust’ (previously called the Courtac in creole) is an indigenous grasshopper that has been recognized as a pest in Trinidad since 1918.

She noted that the non-flying nymphal/hopper stage is considered the most vulnerable stage.

“Adult grasshoppers are gregarious as they form swarms which may contain millions of individuals that behave as a unit. The adults copulate, and eggs are usually laid in forested areas with bare sandy loam soil. These egg beds average 10,000 feet. There were 20 traditional sites of egg beds identified in south Trinidad, however recently egg beds have been observed in non-traditional areas,” she added.

Asked whether aerial staying would be considered to destroy the eggs beds, Dr Titus said this was done in the 1970s and 80s. However, she said this is costly and impacts negatively on water-courses and aquatic life, human health, wildlife, loss of biodiversity, reduction in pollinators, contamination of crops including sundried cocoa beans.

“ Other insects can be killed with the application of aerial spraying,” she added.

Dr Titus said the pest management strategy aims to control the pest, as opposed to eradicating it. She said the ministry has been liaising with Hunters’ Association, Farmers’ Groups, volunteers, Regional Corporations, and individual farmers who assist in locating and monitoring egg beds for the emergence of nymphs (hoppers).

“When the flightless nymphs emerge, spraying can be done by ministry staff to reduce the pest population. There are members of staff and appropriate equipment assigned to the ‘Locust Control Programme’ in an effort to reduce crop loss and to abate the public nuisance caused,” she added.

Asked whether biological controls could be used to eliminate the locusts, Dr Titus said the Research Division has been tasked with developing and assessing methods of control including biological methods and bio-pesticides.

“Development of a successful biological control would greatly enhance our current management strategy and have less of a negative impact on the environment, wildlife and humans. The ministry must take all steps to mitigate against any deleterious effects on our natural flora and fauna arising from the use of biological controls,” she added.

Admitting it was difficult to estimate the population size, Dr Titus said over the last few years the behaviour of the grasshoppers appears to be changing. “Initially there were distinct periods for Egg bed detection (October to December); Nymph control from January to April; Flight-path surveillance of adult and spraying during mating during May to August but over the last few years these distinct seasons, are becoming less defined since nymph control occasionally has to be conducted during fly path surveillance. Swarms appear to be merging instead of remaining as separate bands,” she added.

She said that the ministry recognizes the distress of affected residents and will continue to do repeated spraying of pesticides.

“Monitoring of the situation is ongoing and control strategies are being implemented on non-residential sites,” she said.