Often known as one of the pests of the insect world, the aphid is a very tiny insect that feeds on a variety of plant forms. This amazing insect from the Apidae family is one of the fastest reproducing in the Homoptera order of bugs.
No larger than 1/8 inch long, this minute creature has been known to produce as many as thirteen generations in a single season. Aphids, like many other insects in the Homoptera order, secrete a substance known as honeydew that is a food source for some ant species. In most instances, they live in large colonies that number in the hundreds and can be found clinging to the tips of new growth on the plant source they have chosen as their habitat.
The best way to observe the aphid colonies is to visit a field of weeds during the early months of summer. With over 4,000 species of this insect, they can easily be observed on most budding plants throughout the world. Without a magnifying glass, you may have a difficult time seeing these tiny creatures. But in most cases, you will notice tiny brown spots that appear to be a form of scale on the plant.
This is the skin that has been left behind by the nymph during its development. Since some aphid colonies are not larger than the tip of a sharpened pencil, with a close observation you may be able to discover a tiny insect, some with wings that are clear, as it scurries about feeding and giving birth.
But be aware of the very protective ants that are often found mingling with aphids, since they are quick to sting any intruder.
One of the most fascinating aspects of aphid is the way they reproduce. During the early spring month’s wingless females hatch from eggs that have been deposited either on the food source plant or near it during the previous fall.
These wingless females immediately produce live nymphs that are also wingless females. This process of reproduction, which is also known as parthenogenesis, continues throughout the spring and into the summer months. During the summer months, some wingless females will produce winged females from time to time. Once the winged females have matured they will fly away to begin a new colony on another planet.
The new winged females will produce wingless females to build their colonies until around the middle of the summer months. Depending on the species of aphid, from the middle of summer until around the beginning of the winter months the newly produced females begin giving birth to males as well as females. Once the males and females of the species have mated the fertile female will lay eggs that do not hatch until the following spring. This amazing form of reproduction produces millions of aphids, with the larger colonies being associated with serious damage to plants.
Since different species produce various colors in this insect the best way to recognize the presence of aphids is to be aware of the plant damage that can be found within the area of the colonies. In some cases, the new leaves of the food plant will often be curled with a grayish color at the tips. New plant growth will be stunted and appear wrinkled. Aphids are known to attack many different forms of plants including some vegetables such as beans, tomatoes, cabbage, and potatoes.
But they can also wreak havoc on trees such as apple, pear, or white pine, as well as, ornamental trees and bushes. While these are only a few of the plants affected by aphids, these tiny parasitic insects can just as easily infest houseplants as those outside the home. In agricultural areas, this insect is commonly called plant lice due to the tremendous amount of damage they can cause. Studies have shown that some of this damage is due to various plant viruses that have been taken plant to plant by the ever-growing colonies of aphids.
Even so, aphids have a number of predators, some of which can be safely released into infested areas to reduce their numbers. Predators of this insect include the ladybug larvae, green lacewing larvae, birds, spiders, syrphid fly larvae, and some species of parasitic wasp. In most instances the ants that feed on the aphids excreted honeydew will protect them from predators, even aggressively attacking in numbers.
Aphids are small insects, usually about the size of a pinhead, but easily spotted with the naked eye. These insects can range in colors from green, yellow, black or even pink and be with or without wings. They excrete a sticky, honey-colored residue.
Aphids attach themselves to your plants and extract fluids from them, harming the vegetative growth of your plant and effecting your plants’ potential growth. An infestation of aphids can cripple a garden in a matter of days. They can be controlled very effectively using two common types of treatment(not including prevention): insecticides and predator insects.
PREVENTING APHIDS IN YOUR GARDEN
Preventing aphids in your outdoor garden is nearly impossible, however, you can prevent a major infestation(using insecticidal sprays and predator insects, which are described later) from forming while in its infancy.
In your indoor garden, you can prevent aphids by not introducing them into the environment. Don’t make your usual rounds in the outside garden and then go straight to your inside garden. You should check yourself for bugs, and wash your hands thoroughly before entering your indoor garden.
Also, be sure to seal your indoor garden properly, leaving no crevices, and cracks for them to sneak in through. If you think you spot an aphid, use a mild form of extermination, such as spraying it with an insecticide immediately or by releasing a few predator insects(both described later)in the area of the garden where you spotted it.
You can also use the manual form of elimination(recommended for a few bugs, because it’s very time consuming) and squish them between your fingers. Aphids are slow fliers and can be caught quite easily. They are also vulnerable while they are feeding and stuck to your plant by their suction tube.
DEFEATING APHIDS WITH INSECTICIDAL SPRAYS
Aphids are very easily defeated by insecticidal soaps and pyrethrum sprays. Pyrethrum and insecticidal soaps are applied in basically the same manner. If mixing is required, the first mix according to product usage label, then apply liberally to the foliage of your plants, be sure to cover the majorly infested areas of your plants.
Approximately 5-10 days later repeat the spraying this should kill most of the newly hatched eggs and remaining adults. A third treatment is just to be safe and kill any survivors that may remain. In 5-10 days following your third treatment check your plants thoroughly for any remaining diehards, and spray any spotted, as well as, the area surrounding it.
ATTACKING APHIDS WITH PREDATOR INSECTS
Predator insects are good exterminators of aphids, both in the indoor, and outdoor garden. For their best effectiveness they should be placed out at the first sign of aphids on your plants. The two insects that are most used for aphid infestations are lacewings and lady bugs.
Lacewings are the most menacing predators for aphids. They are released at a rate of 1-20 lacewings per plant, depending on your infestation size. After you have reduced your infestation to minimal levels, place lacewings out at about 1-5 per plant every month thereafter until harvest. If adult lacewings are available, they are preferred over the larvae. Larvae take time to grow into adults and the aphids can devastate a garden in a matter of days.
Ladybugs are also excellent, and easy to obtain exterminator of aphids. During the summer months, you can find them available at most retail nurseries. Indoors ladybugs can be almost ineffective, due to their attraction to lights. If your indoor garden has a high-intensity discharge(HID) lamp, the ladybugs will fly toward it and likely fry(lacewings are the preferred, indoor garden, aphid predator).
Ladybugs are released at a rate of about 50 per plant if you have an HID lamp about half of them will fly toward the lamp and pop! Outside they should be released at a rate of 5-20 per plant once every month after the initial predator application.
Inside they should be released at a rate of 5-20 per plant about 1-2 weeks after the first release and repeated again every 1-2 weeks thereafter until harvest. With early detection, and extermination measures aphids should pose no problem to your indoor or outdoor garden.