To be an aphid

Aphids are very common and can often cause problems in agricultural crops, home gardens, and even on house plants. Even so, they are often misidentified. They come in many colors and attack all sorts of plants. But there is an easy way to be pretty sure you are looking at an aphid. They (almost) all have pointy things on their back-ends. These are technically called cornicles but the best one I’ve heard is little pipes. The two pictures below show different aphid cornicles. Even the little ones have them!

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Not only are aphids easy to identify, they are actually very interesting insects (yes, I’m biased). As part of the insect family Hemiptera, aphids feed by inserting their mouth (called a stylet) into plants’

An aphid inserting it's stylet (mouth) into a rose bud

An aphid inserting it’s stylet (mouth) into a rose bud

veins transporting the sugar phleom. Plants use the phloem transport system to move newly recreated carbohydrates around the plant. Aphids steal the energy by siphoning off the sugary substance. Because they need to process a lot of sugary water to get enough protein, aphids excrete honeydew (also sugar water). In the picture to the left, the aphids stylet is visible extending down from it’s face, between the two front legs.

Have you ever walked across a particularly sticky patch of sidewalk in the summer? Next time look up for the small, honey dew producing culprits.

Ants often protect aphids in order to have access to the excreted honey dew. These ants are actually very effective protectors and can allow aphid populations to grow rapidly by excluding predators. Getting a video of that is on my project list!

Ants farming aphids in a small flower

Ants farming aphids in a small flower

The picture to the right shows two Argentine ants tending to a group of aphids that are feeding on the inside of a flower.

Even without ants, aphids populations can get large fast. Some of that is due to the fact that aphids can reproduce by cloning. A female pops out little clones quickly, making a fast growing colony. The picture below illustrates a colony of aphids. I also like this picture because it shows the aphids arranging themselves along the plant’s veins to extract their food.

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Despite being a problem for the plants we love, aphids are interesting little creatures. Even more fun, aphids are eaten by a wide range of other insects. That’s a whole other topic for a later date!

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About keviclaire

I recently graduated from the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. My research interests are focused on biological control and how to increase it's use in agriculture and home gardens. I am also an avid gardener and insect photographer. I'm using this blog as a place to share those interests!

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