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HumBug: Aphid Cows and Ladybugs


I recently wrote about spittlebugs  and how their larval form covers themselves with a bubblebath of processed plant sap for protection. At the end of their last larval stage (instar) they climb out of the slimy soup, shed their skin one last time and emerge as a stout looking version of their leafhopper cousins. As adults they no longer hide in a gob of suds but hop and fly. Their hopping prowess can even exceed that of the flea. I have started to see aphids on some of the local thimbleberry plants. Like the froghoppers, they are members of the order hemiptera and suck plant juices, sometimes acting as vectors for plant diseases. They can secrete a sticky, sugary substance called “honeydew” which some ants like. The ants will actually protect their aphid cows and harvest the sugary secretion as humans harvest milk from cows. Now that their favorite prey is out and about, the well-known gardener's friend, ladybugs, are starting to show up eating small garden pests like aphids both as larvae and adults. The black and orange larvae remind me of alligators for some reason. One of my favorite things to do with the adults is to allow it to crawl on my hand with my fingers pointing upward. They almost always crawl upward to the tip of a finger, then take flight. It seems to be a genetically programmed instinctual behavior. …

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