Interesting Facts About Aphids: They Poop Sugar

As the joke goes, aphids suck. And while this is both literally and figuratively true, in some respects, any entomologist will tell you that aphids are actually interesting and sophisticated insects.
Aphids can be yellow, orange, green, red, blue, purple, brown or black colored, depending on the species. They can reach 0.04 to 0.39 inches in length.
Aphids, also known as plant lice or greenflies, are type of insects that belong to the group of true bugs. There are 4.400 species of aphids that can be found in temperate and tropical areas around the world. Aphids can be found wherever there are plants – their basic source of food.
They decrease yield of agricultural crops, produce huge damage on garden plants and spread various plant diseases. Despite numerous commercially available insecticides, aphids are still numerous and widespread in the wild (they are not on the list of endangered species).
Check out these 10 interesting facts about aphids:
1. Aphids have many enemies. We’re not just talking about gardeners, either. Aphids are slow, they’re plump, and they’re sweet to eat (presumably). A single plant can host hundreds or even thousands of aphids, offering predators a veritable smorgasborde of snacks.
Aphid eaters include lady beetles, lacewings, minute pirate bugs, hoverfly larvae, big-eyed bugs, damsel bugs, and certain stinging wasps, among others. Entomologists even have a term for the many insects that feed on aphids – aphidophagous.
2. Aphids lack wings (until they need them). They’re generally apterous (wingless), and unable to fly. As you might imagine, this can put them at a considerable disadvantage if environmental conditions deteriorate, since they aren’t very mobile.
When the host plant becomes a little too crowded with hungry aphids, or if it’s sucked dry and there’s a lack of sap, the aphids may need to disperse and find new host plants. That’s when wings come in handy.
Aphids will periodically produce a generation of alates – winged adults capable of flight. Flying aphids don’t set any aviation records, but they can ride a wind gust with some skill to relocate.
3. Some aphids employ soldiers for protection. Although not common, certain gall-making aphids produce special soldier nymphs to protect the group. These female guards never molt into adulthood, and their sole purpose is to protect and serve.
Aphid soldiers are fiercely committed to their job, and will sacrifice themselves if needed. Soldier aphids often have burly legs with which they can detain or squeeze intruders.
4. Aphids have soft body, small eyes, large antennas and mouth designed for sucking. Most species are wingless and have three pairs of legs.
5. Aphids use needle-like mouth to pierce the surface of leaves, stem, buds and root and obtain sugary plant sap. Since sap contains minimal amount of proteins, aphids ingest large quantities of this juice to satisfy their needs for proteins. Excess liquid is eliminated in the form of sticky droplets called honeydew.
6. Aphids sound an alarm when they’re in trouble. Like many insects, some aphids use alarm pheromones to broadcast a threat to other aphids in the area. The aphid under attack releases these chemical signals from its cornicles, sending nearby aphids running for cover.
Unfortunately, for the aphids, some lady beetles have learned the aphid language, too. The lady beetles follow the alarm pheromones to locate an easy meal.
7. When food sources become scarce, females give birth to the generation of winged aphids that fly toward the next host where they can establish new colonies.
8. Females are able to produce offspring asexually (without males). This phenomenon, called parthenogenesis, takes place during the spring. Females give birth to live babies (babies are clones, exact genetic replica of mother).
9. Many aphids have tube-shaped structures (called cornicles) on their abdomen. They can release waxy or foul-smelling substances which repel predators, and pheromones that inform other members of the groups about upcoming danger.
10. Aphids poop sugar. They feed by piercing the phloem tissue of the host plant and sucking up the sap. Unfortunately, sap is mostly sugar, so an aphid must consume a lot of sap to meet its nutritional requirement for protein.
Much of what the aphid consumes just goes to waste. The excess sugar is eliminated in the form of a sugary droplet called honeydew. An aphid-infested plant quickly becomes coated in the sticky excretions.

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