What is it about?

Young crowded locusts are black and yellow, signalling to potential predators - "Leave me alone!" At sexual maturity, swarming males turn yellow again - but why? This has been a mystery for over a century. We suppressed the "Yellow Protein" in mature, amorous males, which caused them to mistake each other for female and attempt to mate one another. So yellowing is repurposed, from a warning to predators into a warning to sexual rivals. This might well be unique to locusts. By contrast, lone-living locusts never turn yellow, so the entire warning strategy (to predators or sexual rivals) is density-dependent. Yellow Protein might therefore help to unravel how nature (the gene) and nurture (the crowd) combine to control an animal's life history.

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Why is it important?

The reason for yellowing in male locusts has remained a mystery for over a century. Our work adds a sexual dimension to studies of locust swarming behavior, and highlights how much we still need to learn about fundamental behaviors in these animals.


This work is a huge joint effort, with pilot studies starting 15 years ago during my PhD, before gradually coming to fruition as a large collaboration between five institutions!

Darron Cullen
University of Lincoln

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Sexual repurposing of juvenile aposematism in locusts, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2200759119.
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