ScienceShot: Swarming Locusts Grow Big Brains

When desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) become too great in number, they transform from solitary insects into swarming crop raiders. Their brains also get a lot bigger, according to a study published online tomorrow in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In the study, computer-assisted laser microscopy was used to create images like the one above, which shows that the brain of the gregarious locusts (right image, above) is 30% larger than those of solitary locusts. The images also revealed that solitary locusts have proportionately larger sensory regions (blue and cyan), which are used for vision and the perception of smells, whereas gregarious locusts have proportionately larger regions that deal with higher brain functions (yellow and orange), such as learning and memory. The higher brain functions may help gregarious locusts survive in the densely packed groups where competition for food is so fierce that cannibalism occurs.

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