Wednesday, June 15, 2011

2011 will be remembered as the year of the aphid

WARNING!  This blog post contains explicit images of mucivory.

Every year, and every season, is different in the garden.  This year has been cool and wet, and some plants have really benefited like the arrow leaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata), and some are having a tougher time like bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva).  That is why diversity in the garden is so important; and interesting.  The biggest benefactor, this year seems to be the aphids, though I am not sure why.  The abundance and diversity of aphids this year is incredible (on our native plants that is, not on our eggplants and peppers). 

A few years ago I was excited to find the red goldenrod aphids had finally colonized a little patch of goldenrod (Solidago missouriensis).  Last year though, none were in sight. 

This year it seems there are aphids on many species, different aphids on each of our goldenrod species (S. missouriensis, S. canadensis, and S. ridgida). 

Not just goldenrods, though.  There are aphids on our big basin sage (Artemisia tridentata - though they are there every year), red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), 
chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), and 
Wilcox’s penstemon (Penstomon wilcoxii). 
This is even the first year I’ve seen aphids on our Ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa).  There are over 350 species of aphids, and most are host-plant specific.  That is, they only feed on a species of plant or plants that share a common genus. 
Compared to when our eggplants or peppers get aphids, when our native plants get colonized by a lot of aphids, it rarely results in damage to the plant.  Actually, our big basin sage seems to thrive in the presence of aphids. 

On our Ponderosa pines we have the giant conifer aphids (Cinara spp.).  These feed on the branches and stems, not on the leaves, and few arborists even consider these a threat.

All these aphids, though are really providing a lot of food for all the birds in the garden that glean insects from the leaves.  Also a benefactor is all the insects that feed on their soft bodies, which I am learning about thanks to my latest project- my insect collection. 

So far that has been a wonderful experience, and I am learning so much, even more than I expected (thanks again to Jen Marangelo from the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium ).  I am simply amazed by the diversity of bees, and flies that are wasp- and bee-mimics.  I am even really impressed by all the species of ladybird beetles in the garden- the sworn, mortal enemy of the aphid.


  1. We've had tons of aphids too this year. I like to watch the tending ants.

    I'm keeping an eye open for evidence of the parasitic wasps that prey on the aphids. Apparently you will find hollowed shells of aphids after they've been eaten from the inside out!

  2. Interesting that you have lot of aphids, too. it's got to be a weather thing. Keep me posted! Again, you have a beautiful blog!
    Thanks for the comments!

  3. Aphids are on the loose in Colorado, too!! More than usual. Must have been the wet spring - although our spring had an abundance of snow, not rain. The plants are more lush because of it. Must be tasty to the little chewers.

  4. Aphids are awesome. I like finding the ant farms. I went through Broadus on my vacation and one of the cottonwoods in their park is fighting off an aphid infection. I checked on it on the way back through and was amazed to see how many more aphids were on the tree in just a week and a half's difference. They are very prolific.

  5. It is extremely helpful for me.Amazing post and everyone has submit their mature views regarding this,I very interested in the article,people pay more attention to high quality life style. High quality means ,comfortable and healthy,Thanks for sharing the info.Regards,