Division of Taxonomy & Biodiversity, Entomology Research Institute, Loyola College, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
Email: bhatmuzaffar471 (at) gmail (dot) com
The Swarm (La Nuée) is a 2020 French horror film later released by Netflix worldwide on 06 August 2021 (except in France, China and Spain). The film was directed by Just Philippot; the story takes place in a rural area of southern France, where a single mother, Virginie, has been living with her two children, Laura and Gaston. Before the death of her husband Nico, they were raising goats to make ends meet, but to support her children and save her property from foreclosure, she decided to raise locusts, the species is Locusta migratoria (Linnaeus, 1758), as a protein supplement and pet feed. Virginie, however, fails to produce a good harvest and the pay is poor. What’s more, her daughter Laura has a fight with a boy at school for mocking her family in videos that he was posting online.
The anguish and distress lead Virginie into a rage. She goes inside the locust greenhouse and starts thrashing the breeding containers, but she accidently falls to the ground and becomes unconscious. When she wakes up, Virginie beheld a very unusual sight: the locusts were crawling over her body and tasting the blood from her wounds. Meanwhile, Gaston also discovered that these locusts were attracted to blood after his pet locust fed on a wound on his hand.
Virginie realizes that these locusts’ taste for blood causes them to breed more and thus provide her with a way to turn her business around. She becomes obsessed with providing the rapidly multiplying locusts with food, from her own blood to that of nearby animals she killed. Virginie felt that this was her only lifeline to have any sort of success. However, at the same time her mental wellbeing was going from bad to worse, as she killed a neighbor’s dog and cow to feed her locusts.
Later on, Virginie refuses to acknowledge the issues with her livestock feeding methods. Karim, who is a good friend of Virginie, tries to burn down the locusts’ pods and she attempts to stop him. However, a swarm of locusts escapes from the greenhouse and begins to attack them. Karim flees to the house (where Laura was also hiding). Virginie hears Laura’s screams and goes inside the house, where Karim is being eaten alive by the locusts that broke through the windows. Fortunately, for Laura, her mother comes to her senses and realizes that the locusts need to be drawn away from her daughter if she is to survive the swarm. Virginie makes cuts on her hands and covers herself in blood, acting as bait to the swarm in an attempt to save her daughter. However, the locusts apparently lose their appetite and dissipates; Virginie and Laura both survive.
INSECTS AS FOOD: A PROMISE FOR THE FUTURE
The human population is increasing at an unprecedented rate and meeting the basic food needs of almost 8 billion people is quite a challenge, with limited global croplands and challenges in cultivating those (Dou et al., 2016). This has always been more onerous for developing nations across the globe. Food produced for human consumption is constantly being lost or wasted: around one third of it, estimated in 1.3 billion tonnes, is lost every year, which has brought about a number of ecological impacts (Gustavsson et al., 2011). As global food demand grows exponentially and hunger remains a reality in many places of the Global South, new approaches and strategies are needed.
Insects are the most proliferous group of (visible) living creatures on the planet. The history of insects began in the Carboniferous period (or maybe even the Devonian), circa 350 million of years ago (Engel, 2015). Insects are the most diverse group of living organisms in sheer number of species and they play a vital role in the functioning of ecosystems providing many kinds of so-called “ecosystem services”. These include: pollination, predation and parasitism of many crop pests, decomposition of organic matter, and honey production, not to mention the economic benefits and revenue generated. Insects have been put in “service” of humankind for ages (Riyaz et al., 2022).
Another use of insects is as food. Entomophagy is the term that refers to eating insects. Humans have harvested certain species of insects for food and feed, like maggots, grubs and locusts, for centuries (Gahukar, 2011). The practice of farming insects as a source of protein, vitamins, minerals and fat is most common in tropical countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, but can also be found elsewhere, like Australia and New Zealand (Chung et al., 2002; Chung, 2010). About 1,900 different species of edible insects have been registered by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), being consumed by 80% of the world’s nations (Ramos‐Elorduy, 2009; FAO, 2012). FAO suggested that eating insects might be a solution to the environmental degradation caused by regular livestock production and some studies have since supported that assertion (Guiné et al., 2021). However, insect-eating is met with resistance in many countries, notably in Europe and the USA. But the rising food demand might change that, enabling the mass rearing of edible insects as a source of protein in human food and animal feed in the near future (Lang & Nakamura, 2021).
Amid the global food crisis, edible insects have the potential to bring some relief as an alternative source of protein and animal feed. Their mass production can provide an alternative chain of food supply in most parts of the world. The venture is not without challenges: choosing suitable insect species, housing and food requirements, and waste management must be considered and discussed with the experts beforehand. Edible insects such as locusts, if escaping in large numbers, can change their behavior into migrating swarms and, with their capacity to move quickly, can turn into devastating pests damaging everything on their way (Berggren et al., 2019). They will not eat people, though.
THE FILM INDUSTRY: PRESENTING SOPHISMS AS SCIENCE
Today, cinema is a prestigious cultural medium with the power to move people’s perceptions and emotions. The reason most people watch films is to experience something outside their everyday lives, from the dawn of human civilizations to potential futures of space travel. Films can make people dream, inspire them, enable them to empathize with other people (fictional or otherwise), and maybe change something in their lives. Films can also speak for those who lack a voice; and not only people, but also nature, like endangered animals and plants on the verge of extinction.
Cinema is one of the most powerful media across the globe and can be an agent of change or a force behind some cause. Someone once said that with a great power comes great responsibility, after all. Thus, some topics should be dealt with more critically in films — science in particular. Many films present wacky concepts as their “scientific” background and, in a bid for easy writing and easier cash, some end up with nonsensical and flawed science. A number of movies have affected the prudence of common audience by presenting the negative aspects of our natural world and biodiversity. Movies like Frogs (1972), Phase IV (1974), Jaws (1975), Grizzly (1976), The Savage Bees (1976), The Bees (1978), Arachnid (2001), Flying Virus (2001), Infested (2002), Bugs (2003), The Happening (2008), The Hive (2008), Camel Spiders (2011), The Bay (2012), Dragon Wasps (2012), and many others have unnerved audiences worldwide. These movies have portrayed biodiversity erroneously and in a manner that could trigger false (and lasting) impressions about some species among the audience, which could have real consequences (Rasia, 2020). Particularly when dealing with endangered and ill-protected species, cinema should better ponder the message they are sharing with the audience.
The Swarm (2021) portrayed locusts as hematophagous and carnivorous even though locusts are mainly herbivores (they belong to the family of short-horned grasshoppers Acrididae, in the order Orthoptera). Furthermore, the films paints insect production for food in a terrible light. Desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) are often considered the world’s most devastating pests, as they are very mobile and can turn an agricultural field into a deserted land (Bullen, 1966). The “fight back plan” against these dangerous pests could involve rearing or harvesting them for food and feed, which is something several nations across the globe are starting to practice (Egonyu et al., 2021).
There are a number of concrete aspects that will turn a good film to one with a legacy. Films that center on a scientific context, including documentaries concerning environmental issues like The Human Element (2018), must aim at providing profound scrutiny of our ecosystems and the rising environmental, climate and biodiversity concerns. Climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution are some of the boiling issues that trouble developed and developing nations alike (Bellard et al., 2012; Sánchez-Bayo & Wyckhuys, 2019; Riyaz et al., 2022).
Even in the present era of scientific and technological advances, we are persistently taking these issues for granted. As already discussed earlier, films have the power to move the audience, so topics going from ecological issues to global food security need to be present in a sensible manner that engages the public and gives them food for thought (Novacek, 2008).
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Berggren, Å.; Jansson, A.; Low, M. (2019) Approaching ecological sustainability in the emerging insects-as-food industry. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 34(2): 132–138.
Bullen, F.T. (1966) Locusts and grasshoppers as pests of crops and pasture-a preliminary economic approach. Journal of Applied Ecology 3: 147–168.
Chung, A.Y.C. (2010) An overview of edible insects and entomophagy in Borneo. In: Durst, P.B.; Johnson, D.V.; Leslie, R.N.; Shono, K. (Eds.) Forest Insects as Food: Humans Bite Back. UN-FAO, Bangkok. Pp. 141–150.
Chung, A.Y.C.; Chey, V.K.; Unchi, S.; Binti, M. (2002) Edible insects and entomophagy in Sabah, Malaysia. Malayan Nature Journal 56(2): 131–144.
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Engel, M.S. (2015) Insect evolution. Current Biology 25(19): R868–R872.
FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations]. (2012) Insects for food and feed. https://www.fao.org/edible-insects/en/ (Date of access: 25/Apr/2022).
Gahukar, R.T. (2011) Entomophagy and human food security. International Journal of Tropical Insect Science 31(3): 129–144.
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Ramos‐Elorduy, J. (2009) Anthropo‐entomophagy: cultures, evolution and sustainability. Entomological Research 39(5): 271–288.
Rasia, L.L. (2020) Killer animals in films: reality vs fiction. Journal of Geek Studies 7(1): 23–27.
Riyaz, M.; Shah, R.A.; Packiam, S.M. (2022) Insect conservation and management: a need of the hour. In: El-Shafie, H. (Ed.) Global Decline of Insects [working title]. IntechOpen, London. Pp. 1–12.
Sánchez-Bayo, F. & Wyckhuys, K.A. (2019) Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: a review of its drivers. Biological Conservation 232: 8–27.
I would like to thank the teams of the Journal of Geek Studies and the Entomology Research Institute, Loyola College, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, for extended support and guidance.
About The Author
Muzafar Riyaz is a budding research scientist in Entomology, whose studies focus on the biodiversity of moths and their evolutionary history. He is also engaged in conservation and management of insects and wants to direct a movie someday.