• Desert locust;
  • maternal effect;
  • phase change;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • population density;
  • Schistocerca gregaria

Abstract. Phase characteristics of locusts from parents that experienced different population densities were investigated under field conditions in Morocco. The density experienced by adults induced a marked phase change in colour, behaviour and morphometry of their offspring. A high-density subpopulation gave rise to a preponderance of black hatchlings that exhibited a high level of aggregation as later stage nymphs and showed gregarious morphometric features as adults, whereas a low-density subpopulation produced a majority of green hatchlings with a lesser tendency to group as final-instar nymphs and more solitarious morphometry as adults. The constrained isolation of insects from the low-density subpopulation, or crowding of insects from the high-density subpopulation, resulted in a behavioural and morphometric change towards even more solitarious characteristics in the former and more pronounced gregarious characteristics in the latter, relative to field-caught insects of the same age. These results from the field are consistent with those in the laboratory and provide more evidence for the dual roles of an individual locust's experience of crowding as well as that of its parents in density-dependent phase change.