6:10am

Sat March 9, 2013
Middle East

When Insects Go Biblical: Swarms Head Toward Israel

Originally published on Sun March 10, 2013 7:47 am

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

If it just sounded like this, might not be all that bad.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRASSHOPPER)

SIMON: That's a grasshopper, and this is the sound of what happens when grasshoppers go biblical, and become a swarm of locusts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SWARM OF LOCUSTS)

SIMON: Just such a swarm of locusts have entered Israel's Negeve desert on Friday and that's bad news for farmers because the insects eat everything that's green.

Farmers in Israel have been on the watch all week for swarms that are migrating over from Africa. Of course, this threat comes just a couple of weeks before Passover, which celebrates the liberation of the Jews from bondage, thanks in part to swarms of locusts. We're joined now from Jerusalem by NPR's Larry Abramson. Larry, thanks so much for being with us.

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: Hi there, Scott.

SIMON: I've never asked this question before. What's the locust forecast, my friend?

ABRAMSON: Well, to be honest, officials were very worried earlier this week. There were swarms coming from Africa, over the Sinai Peninsula toward Israel and the Gaza Strip. And it's a little bit like the snowstorm that didn't hit Washington, D.C. this week. You try to warn people so they'll prepare for the worst and maybe the damage won't be as bad as if you hadn't raised the alarm.

The interesting thing, Scott, is that these insects actually become more aggressive when they swarm. They go through a kind of metamorphosis when they bang into each other, and so if you can spray them before they get into giant swarms, you can make them a little bit less awful.

SIMON: Larry, I mean, that's classic mob psychology, isn't it? They have the audacity and aggressiveness in a mob that they lack individually.

ABRAMSON: Yeah, I guess nature here has taken a lesson from the mob, Scott.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Is there anything conceivably good about a swarm of locusts?

ABRAMSON: Well, Scott, they are delicious, or so I'm told.

SIMON: Oh.

ABRAMSON: One local chef in particular who serves food that's believe to have been eaten in biblical times has been cooking these little guys up and touting them as a delicacy. And that has prompted here in Jerusalem the musical question: is a locust kosher. And the answer - do you know the answer?

SIMON: Let me think about - well, it's not shellfish. I don't believe they have cloven hooves, so I'm going to guess that a locust is kosher.

ABRAMSON: It is kosher, apparently is. Now, there's some dispute because Ashkenazi Jews from Europe don't have a big history of eating locusts, but one locust expert told me that they must have been kosher because kosher laws made sense. They had some logic to them. And the ancients must have known that when locusts come to town, there's nothing left to eat but locusts.

SIMON: Oh. And here's Larry Abramson in Jerusalem. Thanks so much.

ABRAMSON: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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