Its been raining, confining me to my garden at best... So, yesterday I got figgetty and went looking for photographic (Macro) subjects in my garden. To my disappointment I found the aphids back after a hefty dose of aphicide some weeks back!
I cut off a rose to take indoors to my 'studio'.
Hmmmm... Interesting size differences... I had to research aphids a bit, not knowing much about them. That is when I realized that they are really cool bugs.
In this 4x macro, one can see the miniature aphids only lack fully developed cornicles and antenae.
Common rose Aphids (Macrosyphon rosae), are infamous plant pests named after their host plant. Yes, they are those little green specks you see on your roses, usually wingless and 1 to 3mm long. Their soft bodies can be dark-green or pink-brown. In small numbers they do little harm, but they can occur in large masses on shoot tips and suck sap from the vulnerable young growth. This deprives the developing shoot of water and nutrients, so buds fail to open and foliage is distorted.
A cool aphid fact is their reproduction. They alternate between sexual and asexual reproduction. This means that if there is one aphid left on that rose plant of yours, she can clonally reproduce until they take over the plant again. They also have telescoping generations. Now, pay attention here because this is really cool! An adult aphid already has her clone growing in the womb and that clone has another clone in its womb and that one a clone in its womb and so on. They can do this up to 5 generations. This gives the young a head start when they are born because they have been growing and development in the safety of the womb.
Generations typically live 20 to 40 days.
The following information may be a lot more than you probably want to know about aphids, but I was fascinated!
The aphid is fragile and harmless to anything besides plants. The aphid can hardly do anything to ward off a hungry ant. However, the aphid can prevent predation by the ant by proffering up a sugary drop of excretion called “honeydew” from their anus. The ant will then eat this honeydew instead of the aphid. They use horn-like extensions from their bodies (cornicles) to produce defensive fluids such as waxes.
Insects that attack aphids include ladybirds, hoverfly larvae, parasitic wasps, aphid midge larvae, "aphid lions" (the larvae of green lacewings), crab spiders and lacewings.
Aphids release alarm pheromones to “summon” their ant protectors when attacked.
One might call the protection aphids receive when in the presence of these aggressive ants a symbiotic “mutualism”. When ants are not present, ladybird beetles mow aphids down like tanks, chomping them up like snacks and leaving nothing but scattered bits and pieces in their wake.
Ants “farm” with the aphids. By stroking the back of aphids with their antennae, the ants can induce a honeydew droplet.
The ants may move the insects to areas on the plants with the best sap.
When it rains they may move them to sheltered places, even sometimes into their own nests.
Although this process seems very pleasant for both parties, recent studies show that ants sometimes clip the wings off aphids to stop them flying away. They also use chemicals to drug them, preventing their wings from developing. When a “herd” stops producing honeydew, the ants will eat the aphids. It appears that the ants are very much in charge.
Aphids are the in the order Hemiptera along with cicadas, leafhoppers, kissing bugs, water striders, bedbugs and many more creepy crawlies. The common name of the group is “true bugs,” so when you call an insect a bug, you are actually referring to members of this order. They do not undergo metamorphosis, like beetles or bees, so the young are just mini-versions of the adults. They are classified into this order by the sucking mouth parts. In aphids, they use their mouthparts to tap into the plant phloem and feed. Other members of the group use their sucking mouthparts to tap into veins and feed, like the bedbugs and kissing bugs.