September 25, 2022

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A new study shows that the yellow color of a grasshopper allows for more efficient mating in large flocks

A new study shows that the yellow color of a grasshopper allows for more efficient mating in large flocks

The yellow color of the grasshoppers allows more efficient mating in large flocks. This is evidenced by new international research led by KU Leuven, which was published today in the scientific journal PNAS. Until now, it was not known why adult locusts living in large groups developed a bright yellow color.

The young locusts that grow widespread in the landscape develop into inconspicuous brown adult males and females. In their congeners, which occur in large groups and eventually form enormous flocks, fertile females, brown and light yellow, and fertile males can be clearly distinguished. This observation occurred as early as 1921, but the underlying cause of the phenomenon remained unknown for a hundred years.

Partner selection

The results of the study showed that male grasshoppers have difficulty distinguishing between females and males during mating when the protein responsible for producing the yellow color is blocked. If adult males can recognize each other thanks to the yellow color, they seem to be able to efficiently distinguish between female and male grasshoppers. In nature, this process occurs in huge swarms that can contain about 50 million locusts per square kilometer, so that the choice of a partner is quickly and without much struggle.

“Yellow is a necessary distinguishing feature for males in order to mate in a large flock in order for things to go well and thus to maintain the population,” says Professor of Animal Physiology Joseph Vanden Broek (KU Leuven). “For scattered single grasshoppers, this yellow color is not necessary and may be detrimental to their survival because they then lose the camouflage effect.”

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