Aah, yet another helpful writeup from webster. I can do one better...

Latin name: Aphis (genus name)

Aphids are insects that exist wherever plants exist. They are many things to many people.

They are best known to humans as tiny agricultural pests that hurt crops.

They are best known to plants as little bloodsuckers that weaken the plant and leave it succeptable to disease and fungal infection, as well as hurting fruit.

They are best known to ants as useful little creatures that should be protected and guarded, as they can be farmed for the sweet honeydew they excrete.

They are best known to fungi as useful terraformers that excrete honeydew on plants, allowing fungus growth. And if this growth obscures the leaves or hurts the fruit or makes the plant ugly, so what?

They are best known to ladybugs and their ilk as a tasty snack that goes down great. This is why farmers will sometimes buy ladybugs by the gallon.

Other interesting fact:

In response to the herding by ants, some species of aphids have evolved a hindsection which mimics an ant's head. Ants feed each other by spitting up the contents of their crop, holding the droplet in their mandibles. The aphid's rearsection, which excretes a droplet of tasty, sugary waste products, resembles this exchange. I suppose to easily trigger the instinct in the cowboy ants and reinforce the protection relationship.

The Life cycle of an aphid

Winter is spent as a dormant egg, near a bud site on a poplar tree.

Around March, the egg hatches into a female (always), and the aphid starts feeding on the tree's sap.

At maturity she produces a brood of live young (without a mate). These aphids are genetically identical.

These young feed on the sap of the tree, and also produce clones of themselves in the same way.

Repeat until tree branch is full. It's sometime around May, most likely.

The next generation of female (still all female) aphids are born with wings. They fly off to an empty plant, not necessarily a poplar tree.

And start producing daughters. Until that plant is full up. This continues until the supply of aphid supporting plants starts to decline (September).

The next generation of females fly back to the poplar tree.

They lay eggs containing (more) females. No males yet this year... But this generation is ready to deal with them when they get here.

The aphids remaining out in the field, away from the popular, produce eggs containing winged males. These males head back to the tree, to meet and mate with the females.

Who then lay eggs near the bud sites on the popular tree, where they sit dormant for the winter.

This system allows the aphid population to explode during the time of plenty, but still enjoy the advantages of genetic reshuffling. Aphids are a r-selected species

Managing aphids in the garden:

Aphids in moderation are good. They are easy to deal with using integrated pest management. The damage done by aphids to plants is directly related to the number of aphids feeding on said plant. If the numbers are kept low the damage will be minimal.

If there are aphids around; ladybugs and parasitic wasps will follow. In fact one can be alerted to an aphid infestation by the increased number of ladybugs. The aphids are less obvious, they tend to look like the plant they are on and they hang around in the tender new growth where leaves are small and tight and little bugs are harder to see. If an aphid is swollen and darker than his mates he may be harboring the young of the Encarsia Wasp. Those not parasitized are often they are the same color as the plant. They line up in symmetrical little lines and just look like the branch tip. Once the ladybugs arrive they will eat prodigious numbers of the little guys. Ladybugs are great to have around to those gardeners with anthropomorphic tendencies. We think they are cute little friends when really they are big time hunters. So…. back to aphids, if we use integrated pest management we will control the aphid population but not eliminate it. Hence we still get ladybugs and ladybugs are fun. Imported (or purchased) ladybugs tend to fly away to territories with more aphids.

Also, aphids make great food for aquarium fish. One can shake the tender and therefore flexible new growth tips of the plant over a container and off fall the aphids. A few will fly away to start the next aphid population explosion but many will be wingless and of varying sizes and will fall into the container in a big pile suitable for feeding as live food or for freezing in little aphid ice cubes for use later. Either way the fish love them and it helps to condition the fish for breeding. A little bonus for the non-pesticide user.

If the population is too big and the plant is being damaged a strong spray of water will knock aphids right off and kill most of them as they have very soft bodies and squish easily. Many of the plants aphids prefer need trimming of new growth tips anyway. Pruned tips can be thrown away, aphids and all. Eventually as the new growth hardens and the season progresses the aphid population decreases to more manageable numbers. Tem42 explains this well in the write up above on the aphid life cycle.

A"phid (#), n. Zool.

One of the genus Aphis; an aphidian.


© Webster 1913.

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