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Savoirs locaux et agriculture durable au Yémen

Frédéric Pelat
Amin Al-Hakimi


The evolution of insect biodiversity in Yemen

Ahmed M. A. Sallam et Saeed A. Ba‑Angood

Texte intégral

  • 1 Central Statistical Organization,1999, Statistical Year-Book 1998. Ministry of Planning and Develo (...)

1The Republic of Yemen is located in the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula, at 12-20oN and 41-54oE, and bordered to the north by Saudi Arabia, to the south by the Arabian Sea, to the east by Oman and to the west by the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab. In the Red and Arabian seas are 112 islands, the biggest of which is Suqutrā. Yemen can be divided into four topographic regions: the coastal areas, the western highlands, the eastern plateau, and the Empty Quarter (al-Rubc al-Khalī), in addition to the islands.1 Yemen’s diverse climate and topography sustains a high degree of biodiversity.

2Old texts related to agriculture refer several times to the insect fauna of Yemen, either as pests (e.g. locusts and termites) or as biocontrol agents (e.g. predatory ants for the control of date palm pests). The insect fauna has also attracted the attention of foreign scientists in more recent times. Systematic collection of insects began with the Danish expedition sponsored by King Fredrick V in the 18th century, and has continued until today. The total number of identified insect species now exceeds 3 450 species belonging to 25 orders, a diverse insect fauna indeed. This paper highlights the evolution and development of biodiversity of insect fauna in Yemen.

Methods used in data collection

3For data collection and analysis, we used the following methods and referred to the following sources:

  • a review of available published and unpublished papers and reports the concerning natural history in Yemen and Arabia; this literature is located in the agricultural research and academic institutes that we visited. Most attention was given to the reports of foreign expeditions and authors, and Yemeni scholarship about indigenous and ancient agriculture in Yemen.
  • the reports and published documents of the Department of Plant Protection, Yemeni-German Plant Protection Project, Insect Fauna Research Team Reports.
  • we made a survey of internet on-line services and identified several web sites with information about Yemen.
  • our own notes and observations recorded in field visits to different agricultural areas of Yemen. We contacted old people and ask them about traditional and indigenous practices their forefathers used to control agricultural pests, and about the local names of insects.

Results and discussion

4Yemen is famous for its indigenous knowledge of agricultural practices and techniques, and for managing its natural resources while preserving these resources. Yemeni farmers grew crops in valleys, in coastal areas and on terraces built against the steep slopes of mountains. They constructed dams, weirs and large-scale hydraulic works to harvest water. This experience and knowledge was elaborated through the centuries to suit different production regimes and ecosystems. These agricultural activities resulted in rich production of cereals, coffee, fruits, and aloe. These products were, in addition to frankincense, the basis of trade relations in ancient Yemen, and Yemen occupied an important trade and agriculture position that justified the name “Arabia Felix.”

5Yemen has long faced difficult circumstances that encouraged people to migrate and to work outside the country. But Yemenis always tried to return to Yemen, carrying with them different products, plants and seeds which they tried to cultivate at home. But people returning to Yemen did not always know what insects or diseases the new plants carried, insects and diseases that might find in Yemen an environment suitable for their propagation. Invaders and colonizers—the Portuguese (1497-1517), the Ottomans (1538-1638 and 1872-1918) and the British (1839-1967)—also introduced new crops and plants, again accompanied by foreign insects. And the free movement of trade also helped to introduce to Yemen several foreign insect faunas.

  • 2 Hansen, T., 1993, From Copenhagen to Yemen,. Beirut (in Arabic).
  • 3 Forskål, P., 1775, Descriptiones animalium, avium, amphibiorum, piscium, insectorum, vermium quae (...)

6More recently, Imamate rule isolated much of Yemen from other parts of the world. The Yemeni people suffered greatly from illiteracy, illness, and cultural and scientific isolation. Botanists and zoologists were eager to learn about the fauna and flora of Yemen. Forskål, a member of the Danish expedition that visited Yemen in the 18th century, was so happy when he discovered the “balsam” plant that he wrote to the eminent scientist Linnaeus expressing his happiness;2 although Forskål died in Yemen he managed to write a lot about the plants and insects of the country.3

Insects in ancient agriculture

  • 4 Y. Al-cAnsī, (1998, Agricultural Landmarks in Yemen, Sancā’ [in Arabic} collects many proverbs and (...)

7Although old agriculture documents occasionally mention insects, they contain less information about insect diversity than about plant diversity. These texts do showed that many names for insects used by farmers in ancient agriculture are still used today, and that these names differed from region to region (see Table 1). Locusts were mentioned quite often in these agricultural writings and reports—this pest attacked almost all crops and plant covers, and caused a lot of damage. Locusts were also mentioned in popular proverbs. The wise man cAlī bin Zayd said “cindī taqūm al-qiyāmah.... wa lā hanīn al-majārid,” meaning that he preferred the end of the world to the noise of locusts eating his crop, because then he would have nothing to feed his family. Another proverb said “idhā tarahat al-jarādah fawqa al-safā’ tashil sāc qarnha” which means that if locusts attacked crops they left a great damage, and farmers may suffer from hunger.4

8The Yemeni farmer tried to maintain the natural balance, and so encouraged sustainable biodiversity. The diversity of insect fauna today is different than in earlier times for several reasons: the expansion of cultivated area, the higher diversity in agricultural crops, and accidentally or intentionally introduced plant species that carried foreign insects. A big reason for sudden outbreaks of pests is the introduction of new seeds and seedlings to Yemen. Any introduction of plant materials without a quarantine-check may lead to the spread of the pests, diseases, or weeds that accompany the new plants.

9We are still far from understanding the diversity of insect fauna in Yemen. Therefore, it is very important to make a multi-purpose survey of insect fauna in all regions of Yemen. The study of this biodiversity, and of the relationship between all types of environmental systems on one hand, and the impact on biodiversity of human activities and of other natural factors on the other hand, is very important.

History of scientific insect collection in Yemen

  • 5 Forskål, op. cit., 1775; Niebuhr, op. cit., 1792.
  • 6 Hacker’s (Hacker, H., 1999, History of collecting insects in Yemen. insect fauna of Yemen. Part 1, (...)

10If we follow the history of systematic insect collection in Yemen, we will find that King Frederick V of Denmark was one of the first to launched a scientific expedition to Yemen. Although most of the members of this expedition died of disease, they left very good results later published by Niebuhr.5 We here mention some subsequent expeditions and individuals that contributed to the collection and publication of insect fauna of Yemen.6

  • 1824-25: The biologist F.W. Hemprich and C.A. Ehrenberg visited the Red Sea coast area and collected some Rhopalocera (Lepidoptera) that Klug (1829-34) later identified.
  • 1881: Prof. I.P. Balfour collected insects on Suqutrā; of this collection A.G. Butler identified the Lepidoptera and C.O. Waterhouse the Coleoptera.
  • 1884-96: Major J.W. Yerbury and Captain G. Nurse visited Aden and collected Lepidoptera, Hymenoptera, and Syrphids.
  • 1895: Mr. T. Bent’s expedition to Hadramawt collected some insects, of which C.J. Gahan published the Coleoptera and F.W. Kirby the rest.
  • 1898-99: A British expedition spend about five months (November 1898 to March 1899) on Suqutrā and Abd al-Kūrī islands, under the direction of W.R. Ogilvie Grant and H.O. Forbes. The study was reported in a multi-author publication (1903) titled Natural History of Sokotra and Abd-el Kouri. The insect chapters of this report recently were translated into Arabic with updated taxonomic nomenclature.7
  • 1898-99: The British expedition to Suqutrā coincided with an Austrian team sponsored by the Royal Academy of Science, Vienna to south Arabia and Suqutrā. The most famous collectors of the expedition were Prof. O. Simony and Captain H. Rosengreen. They collected insect species belong to the Diptera, Orthoptera and Lepidoptera orders, which were later published by specialists.
  • 1937-38: H. Scott and D.S. Britton, entomologists of the British Museum, collected insects from the higher mountains of Yemen and from the Aden Protectorate. Most of the material was given to specialists and later published.
  • 1962-65: Prof. Guiseppe Scortecci collected insects from South Arabia and Yemen and gave the collection insect taxonomists for publication.
  • 1982-86: An expedition from the Departments of Geography and Biology, College of Education, University of Aden visited Suqutrā (3-10 December 1982). They collected several insect species and published their work in 1986.
  • 1993: The Insect Fauna of Yemen Research Team (University of Aden) visited Suqutrā and collected insects and mites belonging to 13 orders. They subsequently publish this work.
  • 1998: The Insect Fauna of Yemen Research Team (University of Aden) visited the Hūf area of Mahrah Governorate in November 1998. Most attention was given to the Hūf forest, which then was an area closed by border problems. The group collected insects from different orders, some of which are still being identified.
  • 1979-2000: The journal Fauna of Saudi Arabia has published several works on Yemeni insect.8
  • 1997-2000: Several entomologists and biologists collected insects on Suqutrā in connection with the Conservation of Biodiversity Project, among them Dr Wranik, van Harten and Dr. Ahmed Sallam from the Insect Fauna of Yemen Research Team (University of Aden) in addition to others from scientific institutes in Germany and Britain.

Check-Lists of identified insect and mite species in Yemen

11Several entomologists and academic or research organizations have published check-lists of insects and mites in Yemen. We here mention the most important lists:

  • In 1903 several check lists of identified insects and mites on Suqutrā and Abd al-Kūrī were published in the monograph The Natural History of Sokotra and Abd el Kouri by the Liverpool Museums. These lists cover Orthoptera (identified by Burr), Lepidoptera (Dixey), Neuroptera and Pseudoneuroptera (Forbes), Coleoptera (Gahan), Rhopalocera (Grant), moths (Hampson), Hymenoptera (Kirby), Hemiptera (Kirkaldy), Neuroptera and Amphibiotica (McLachan) and Diptera (Ricardo).
  • Al-Kūd Research Station, established in 1951, made collections at various times of several insect and mite species; these collections were sent to the British Museum for identification. A check-list of insects and mite species in southern and eastern governorates of Yemen is based on these collections.9
  • Al-Bashīr included a check-list of insects in northern governorates in his final report as an FAO expert in plant protection in the Research and Training Project in Tacizz.10
  • A check-list of insect species for the former Yemen Arab Republic.11
  • A check-list of locusts and grasshoppers for the eastern and southern governorates.12
  • A preliminary list of natural enemies of agricultural pests in southern and eastern Governorates, the result of an on-going survey begun in 1970.13
  • Lists of insect pests in northern governorates of Yemen.14
  • A first check list of insect and mite species for united Yemen.15
  • A list of predators and parasites of insect pests in Yemen,16 subsequently revised and enlarged.17
  • A check-list in booklet form of the Yemeni Insect Fauna Research Team.18
  • A revised list of termite species in Yemen.19
  • A revised checklist of Lepidoptera species of the Arabian Peninsula with special concentration on Yemen.20

12The Yemeni Insect Fauna Research Team, affiliated with the Department of Biodiversity at the Centre for Environmental Studies and Research, is planning several publications, among them Bibliography of Insect Fauna of Yemen and Atlas of Major Insect Fauna of Yemen.

13We reviewed the insect species recorded in all these check-lists, finding a total of 3452 species belong to 25 orders (summarized in Table 2); the scientific names of 108 species refers to Yemen or to an area in Yemen (particularly Suqutrā). From the check-lists we found some 312 pest species that attack agricultural crops or store products, or that present public health threats (Table 3). The insects of Yemen also include a fair number of biocontrol agents: some 384 species (in different 10 orders) of predators and parasites appear in the check-lists (Table 2). Other useful species also appear, e.g. pollinators such as honeybees. In sum, Yemen hosts a diverse insect fauna in which pests constitute 10.4%, and biocontrol agents 11.2%, of the recorded species. But a lot of insect species are not identified, due to the scarcity of insect taxonomists in the country and to a lack of funds with which to send samples for species identification outside the country.

14The biggest problem we face is the general lack of reference collections for use in training students and in research projects. Most of the collected and identified specimens are curated in natural history museums outside Yemen. Only a few collections are available in Yemen, maintained in academic or research institutes such as al-Kūd Research Centre, departments of plant protection in colleges of agriculture, the Yemeni Insect Fauna Research Team collections, or in the General Department of Plant Protection (Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation). These collections are small in numbers and, because no one is maintaining them, poor in quality. We also are not sure that the insect species recorded in the check-lists are all correctly identified. Therefore it is of utmost importance that we establish a Natural History Museum in Yemen.


15We conclude with our recommendations for the priorities of future research and activities:

  • Collect and document of all know traditional knowledge possessed by old farmers about the insects of Yemen;
  • Establish a Natural History Museum in Yemen;
  • Study systematically the biodiversity of insect fauna in Yemen and the impact of human activities and of natural factors on the sustainability of that biodiversity;
  • Assemble and document all available studies on the insects of Yemen.

Table 1: List of local names of insects in ancient agriculture still in use, and its host crops

Common Arabic name (English name) Names in ancient agriculture still used in some areas in Yemen Host crops
alman (aphids) al-casāl, al-macassalah (most areas); al-hallah (Hadramawt); shākhir (Jiblah); al-nasah (highlands) cereals, legumes (al-dujur), alfalfa, grapes
hafār sāq al-durah (stem borer) al-hūtī (Hadramawt); dūdah macwad (Tihāmah) cereals
dūdah al-balh al-saghīrah (lesser date moth) al-hummayrah, al-farrārah (Hadramawt) date palm
dūdah al-jaysh al-afriqiyyah (army worm) al-judmī, al-dūdah al-khadrā’, al-jarm cereal crops
al-naml al-abyad al-ardah (termite) al-sulalī (Wādī al-Sirr); al-nāgir (Hamdān); khalq sācah, al-shazwī, al-qāticah (Tihāmah) grapes, date palm
baq al-qarciyāt (cucurbit bug) abū daraq (Abyan) cucurbits
khunfasā’ al-qithā’ (cucurbit beetle) al-kabanj (Lahj, Abyan) cucurbits
dhubābah thimār al- qarciyāt (cucurbit fruitfly) al-samarayn (Lahj, Abyan); al-dūdī (Hadramawt); al-suwār, nāgiz al-thimār cucurbits
dhubābah al-dhurah (sorghum fly) al-māsih sorghum
al-khunfasā’ al-wathābah (flea beetle) al-wathābah, al-nattātah (Lahj, Abyan) cotton, okra
dūdah thimār al-bunn (coffee fruit borer) al-khāriz coffee
ibrah al-cajūz (earwig) kalbah al-haddād (Tacizz) predator
al-naml (ant) al-darr (Hadramawt); al-safīr, al-qacāmīs (al-Hudaydah, Adan, Tacizz); al-qacs predator
faras al-nabī (mantid) al-shābrah (Tacizz); al-musalayyah; al-cābdah (Hadramawt) predator
al-dabābīr (wasp) al-hurayb (Tacizz, Ibb); al-handabūr, al-zanābīr (Hadramawt) predators and pests
baq al-farāsh (bed bug) al-katanah public health insect
al-samak al-fiddī (silver fish) al-qurāt (Aden) store pest
al-sarāsīr (cockroache ) al-safāf (Aden); al-safāsīf (al-Mukalla) public health insect
al-bacūd (mosquitoe) al-nāmis (Abyan, Lahj) public health insect

Table 2: Number of identified insect pests, natural enemies and those which bear a Yemeni name for each insect order in Yemen

Order Total number of species Number of pest species Number of natural enemies Number bearing a Yemeni name
Collembola 1 - - -
Thysanura 6 2 - -
Zygoptera 11 - 11 -
Anisoptera 26 - 26 2
Phasmida 1 - - -
Orthoptera 88 21 - 7
Manteoptera 24 - 24 1
Blattaria 8 - - -
Isoptera 32 32 - 2
Dermaptera 7 - 7 -
Embiidina 3 - - 1
Psocoptera 10 - - 3
Phthiraptera 3 - - -
Hemiptera 457 20 10 8
Ephemeroptera 11 - - -
Homoptera 127 64 - 1
Thysanoptera 94 9 5 -
Neuroptera 36 - 36 -
Coleoptera 980 76 69 27
Strepsiptera 2 - - 1
Siphonaptera 18 - - -
Diptera 500 21 49 14
Trichoptera 10 - - -
Lepidoptera 780 64 - 24
Hymenoptera 506 3 147 16
Total species 3452 312 384 108
Proportion of total species 100% 9.04% 11.12% 3%

Table 3: Pest species, by taxonomic order

Taxonomic order Cereal crops Cash crops Vegetable crops Fruit trees Store Products Forestry & Ornamental trees Total
Coleoptera 9 14 18 24 27 2 44
Diptera 8 2 8 4 2 2 26
Hemiptera 5 12 7 1 - - 25
Homoptera 11 5 11 44 - 5 76
Hymenoptera - - - 1 - 2 3
Lepidoptera 13 17 15 17 7 4 73
Orthoptera 15 2 9 4 - 6 36
Isoptera 5 5 3 3 11 6 33
Thysanoptera 2 2 2 6 - - 12
Total 68 59 73 104 47 27 378
Proportion of total 18.0% 15.6% 19.3% 27.5% 12.4% 7.1% 99.9%


1 Central Statistical Organization,1999, Statistical Year-Book 1998. Ministry of Planning and Development; Balfaqih, A.A., 1997, The Geography of the Republic of Yemen, Aden.

2 Hansen, T., 1993, From Copenhagen to Yemen,. Beirut (in Arabic).

3 Forskål, P., 1775, Descriptiones animalium, avium, amphibiorum, piscium, insectorum, vermium quae in itinere orientali observavit. Petrus Forskal–Post mortem autoris edidit Carsten Niebuhr, Hauniae; Niebuhr, M., 1792, Travels through Arabia and other countries in the East, Edinburgh.

4 Y. Al-cAnsī, (1998, Agricultural Landmarks in Yemen, Sancā’ [in Arabic} collects many proverbs and poems about locusts in ancient agriculture.

5 Forskål, op. cit., 1775; Niebuhr, op. cit., 1792.

6 Hacker’s (Hacker, H., 1999, History of collecting insects in Yemen. insect fauna of Yemen. Part 1, Esperiana Buchreihe zur Entomologie 7:15-237) recent historical review of insect collecting in Yemen unfortunately omits the efforts and activities of Yemeni specialists.

7 Translations: Ba-Angood, S.A., 1996, Order:Hymenoptera, Al-Yaman 6:53-64; 1997, Ichneumons, wasps and bees, Al-Yaman 7-8:201-210; 1999, White Ants, Al-Yaman 9:193-201; 1999, Earwigs, cockroaches and grasshoppers, Al-Yaman 10:115-134; 2000, Cicadas and bugs, Al-Yaman 11:179-191.

8 Including work by Larsen in 1983 on moths and butterflies; Richards in 1984 on social wasps; al-Safadi in 1990 on dragon flies; Chhotani and Bose in 1991 on termites, Linnavuori and van Harten in 1991-93 on bugs; and others on several families of insects.

9 Mahfood, S.A. and A. Bin Othman, 1988, List of recorded plant insects and mites in PDR Yemen.

10 Al-Bashīr, final report, FAO, Research and Training Project, Tacizz.

11 Nasseh, O. and A.M. Mohammed, 1987, Revised list of insects found in YAR. Sancā’.

12 Ba-Angood, S.A., and F.M. Ba-Hakim, 1988, A check-list of locust and grasshopper species that belong to the order Orthoptera and its geographical distribution in People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. Insect Fauna Research Team, University of Aden. (Arabic). The list was revised by Popov and published as a technical report for the Insect Fauna Research Team – University of Aden.

13 Ba-Angood, S.A., 1990, A preliminary survey of natural enemies for agricultural pests in Democratic Yemen. Al-Yaman 2:22-37. (Arabic)

14 Al-Ghashm, M.Y., 1991, Pesticide guide for agricultural pests in the Republic of Yemen, Research and Extension Authority. (Arabic); al-Ghashm, M.Y., 1994, Integrated Pest Management–Future Strategy, Yemeni-German Plant Protection Project, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation. (Arabic).

15 van Harten, A. and V. Wagener, 1994, Terrestrial arthropods of the Republic of Yemen, A check list. Yemeni-German Plant Protection Project, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation.

16 Al-Ghashm, M.Y., op. cit. 1994

17 Ba-Angood, S.A. and M.Y. al-Ghashm, 1998, Biological control of insect pests in Yemen, paper presented at a workshop on Biological Control of Plant Pests in the Near East, 14-18 November 1998, Tehran/Babolsar, Islamic Republic of Iran; Ba-Angood, S. A., 2000, Friends of the environment: Some natural biocontrol agents that can be used as alternatives for chemical control of agricultural pests in Yemen, paper presented at the First Scientific Conference on Environment and Natural Resources, University of Tacizz, Tacizz, April 15-22, 2000. (Arabic).

18 Ba-Angood, S. A., A.M. Ghalib and A.M. Sallam, 1997, A Check-list of important insect and mite pests, their geographical distribution and host plants in Yemen, Insect Fauna Research Team, University of Aden.

19 Ba-Angood, S.A., 1999, Termite insect species recorded in some governorates in Yemen and its place in insect classification. In: Termite Pest Management, A country-training course on Termite Management, Centre for Environmental Studies and Sciences University of Aden, Aden, pp. 41-50.

20 Hacker, H., 1999, Systematic list of the Lepidoptera of the Arabian Peninsula with a survey of the spread with special reference to the Fauna of Yemen. Insect Fauna of Yemen. Part 1. Esperiana Buchreihe zur Entomologie 7:10-14.


Department of Plant Protection, Nasir’s College of Agriculture, University of Aden

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