The pilgrimage hub of Saudi Arabia got hit with a plague of biblical proportions earlier this week when a massive swarm of locusts descended upon the Islamic holy site of Mecca.
In several videos posted online, locusts were seen crawling around Mecca’s grand mosque, creeping their way across the stone slabs, providing a small snapshot of what Pharaoh saw during the Passover thousands of years ago. One particularly searing video showed a cloud of flying pests descending their way over the wall, illuminated by the towering floodlights. Behold the eeriness:
According to the Times of Israel, Mecca authorities have been working tirelessly all week to clean up the infestation.
“Specialized teams have been directed to work in the fight to eliminate these insects,” authorities in Mecca said, according to the Al-Araby Al-Jadeed news site. “We have harnessed all efforts available to speed up the eradication of the insects in the interest of the safety and comfort of guests of God’s house.”
According to CNN‘s Arabic website, the locusts have been identified as “black grasshoppers,” and 22 teams with 111 pieces of equipment have been dispatched to handle the infestation.
Newsweek reports that the teams targeted the locusts breeding and gathering sites such as sanitation areas and water drains. Besides being a nuisance, locusts do not actually pose any viral or physical threats to human populations. More from Newsweek:
While potentially a major nuisance, locusts themselves are not known to carry diseases transmittable to humans, nor do they bite or sting. Hazal bin Mohammed al-Zafar, the head of Plant Protection Department at King Saud University’s Faculty of Food and Agricultural Sciences, told the local Sabq newspaper Monday that the “field cockroaches” were actually in the Gryllidae family, and actually more closely related to grasshoppers and crickets than domestic cockroaches.
Zafar told the outlet that locals should refrain from eating or selling the insects, while stressing that they “do not transmit diseases” and that swarming was a natural phenomenon, likely related to recent rains. He estimated that around 30,000 locusts had descended on Mecca, noting that larger swarms can reach into the hundreds of thousands.
Of course, the religious connotations behind the swarm did not go unnoticed by local media outlets in Mecca, since all three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — believe that locust swarms can signify a divine punishment from Almighty God. The locusts’ appearance in Islam’s holiest city only added to that mystique. An equivalent in Christianity would be plagues of rats or cockroaches suddenly descending upon Vatican City.
Quran verse 7:133, says the following about God’s plagues upon the people of Egypt during the time of Moses: “Then We afflicted them with a great flood and locusts, and the lice, and the frogs, and the blood. All these were distinct signs and yet they remained haughty. They were a wicked people.”
The Quran notes that the plagues convinced the Egyptian pharoah to release the Israelites, paving the way for them to the promised land.