I am literally scratching myself as I type this.
I am literally scratching myself as I type this.
Photo: Getty

The Associated Press published a story early Thursday morning using reporting from Chinese-based Ningbo Evening News that Chinese authorities were deploying 100,000 ducks to Pakistan to help combat the locust swarms plaguing the country. Outlets around the world picked the ducks vs. locusts battle up before AP amended its reporting to note “questions were raised” about the Chinese report.

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Well, we have answers. And folks, I’m here to inform you all that no mighty duck army is headed to Pakistan to help defeat the destructive reign of evil locusts. That’s truly unfortunate because the locust situation is really bad. Pakistan declared a national emergency earlier this month. The swarms are ravaging East African nations like Kenya and Ethiopia. The Democratic Republic of Congo was overrun by a swarm last week for the first time in more than half a century. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) describes the situation as “extremely alarming.”

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That’s in part because the bugs are voracious little shits: The FAO said a swarm the size of Paris can eat the amount of food as half of France in a single day. That’s mad food that this part of the world can’t afford to lose. More than 40 percent of the people in the region being impacted by locusts are already undernourished.

So imagine everyone’s excitement when they heard ducks may come to the rescue. And not just any ducks but an army of ducks. After a Chinese outlet reported it and quoted Lu Lizhi, a researcher at Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the story spread like wildfire before the AP’s update questioning the veracity of the story. Outlets like the New York Times and ABC News recirculated the AP wire story, though they now are running the updated version. Time still had its story up at the time of publication. So does Bloomberg. And I get it. I mean, c’mon. A 100,000-strong duck army? Who doesn’t want to write about that? Unfortunately, that wouldn’t have been nearly enough to do anything about these locust swarms even if the news were true.

Each square kilometer of a swarm may be comprised of between 40 million and 80 million locusts, according to the FAO. An army of 100,000 ducks could eat 20 million locusts in a day, according to Keith Cressman, the FAO’s senior locust forecaster. That’s only half of a square kilometer’s worth of bugs. In the Horn of Africa, the swarms have spread over hundreds of square kilometers in some countries, Cressman wrote in an email to Earther.

“There are not enough ducks, and they cannot eat enough desert locusts to have a significant impact,” Cressman said.

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And not to further ruin your dreams of an epic battle royale in the desert, but ducks don’t even normally chow down on these bugs. Ducks are aquatic, and they typically eat wetland bugs they scoop up with their beaks from the water, Michael Eichholz, an associate professor of zoology at Southern Illinois University who specializes in waterfowl ecology, told Earther. This not only keeps ducks fed; it keeps them hydrated.

And that’s why they generally hang out in ponds, lakes, and rivers, not in the freaking desert where the locust swarms have been congregating. When I asked Eichholz if ducks could hypothetically feast on locusts if they were dropped in the middle of a swarm, he laughed at first before explaining the issue.

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“I’m sure they could catch locusts and potentially survive, but there are certain species of animals that have evolved to get water from food sources so they don’t actually have to have water to drink,” Eichholz said. “I am not aware of any species of duck that would get enough moisture from the food sources that they wouldn’t also have to get water, so you couldn’t just put them in this arid environment without a source of water.”

Even domesticated ducks—which don’t normally live in water—would ultimately struggle to survive in the arid desert landscape, Eicholz said.

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So sadly, the duck army thing just isn’t likely to work even if were to actually happen. In conclusion, let me leave you with this (inaccurate) video as a parting gift. Maybe one day we’ll have our duck army ready to face off with locusts, but sorry, CGTN. That day is not today.

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Yessenia Funes is a senior staff writer with Earther. She loves all things environmental justice and dreams of writing children's books.

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