Las Vegas has seen a swarm of grasshoppers, locusts, in the last few days and residents are asking why….
A rainier season and warm weather may induce migration and mass gathering of grasshoppers, but scientists suggest an additional cause, serotonin.
In 2009, researchers from Oxford and Cambrige Universities revealed that the hormone serotonin may be responsible for desert locusts to swarm. Anstey et al found elevated serotonin levels 3X higher in those grasshoppers who were swarming as opposed to less sociable, solitary ones.
They also found the stimulation of the hind legs by locusts crawling over eachother as well as the sight and smell of other locusts helped create more of a gathering of the gregarious insects.
In other words, it’s a party.
Inhibiting serotonin seemed to return the locusts to their solitary grasshopper state.
In the author’s abstract, they write:
WE SHOW HERE THAT SEROTONIN, AN EVOLUTIONARILY CONSERVED MEDIATOR OF NEURONAL PLASTICITY, IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS BEHAVIORAL TRANSFORMATION, BEING BOTH NECESSARY IF BEHAVIORAL GREGARIZATION IS TO OCCUR AND SUFFICIENT TO INDUCE IT. OUR DATA DEMONSTRATE A NEUROCHEMICAL MECHANISM LINKING INTERACTIONS BETWEEN INDIVIDUALS TO LARGE-SCALE CHANGES IN POPULATION STRUCTURE AND THE ONSET OF MASS MIGRATION.
Serotonin is a chemical and neurotransmitter that helps affect mood, sex drive, appetite, sleep, growth and even bowel movements. Low serotonin has been implicated in depression, irritable bowel syndrome and insomnia. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such Prozac and Zoloft help increase one’s levels of serotonin by blocking receptors that can reabsorb the chemical.
The current swarm of locusts in Las Vegas is not projected to last longer than a few weeks, and no harm should come from the insects.
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.