Where Do Aphids Come From? Exploring These Pests

insects on a leaf

You've probably seen them walking around your backyard — small, colorful, and pear-shaped aphids with long antennae measuring from about one-sixteenth to three-eighths of an inch. But where do aphids come from? And why are they considered as one of the most destructive pests on earth?

Where Do Aphids Come From?

aphids and flower

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So where do aphids come from, exactly? Aphids can be found anywhere on the planet but typically thrive in temperate regions. Several species of aphids can be found all over North America. They are usually active during the spring months but dwindle in numbers significantly as temperatures become hotter.


Aphids live as colonies and thrive in the undersides of tender leaves, especially in budding plants or in new plant growth. This tiny, sap-sucking and soft-bodied insect sucks on fluids from leaves and flowers by inserting its proboscis into phloem cells — the conduit which distributes food to the other parts of the plant. Aphids are the only known insects to possess cornicles, which are a pair of tube-like projections found on their abdomens.


Where do aphids come from? They seem so widespread, after all. Aphids are capable of migrating great distances, often through passive dispersal by strong winds or through human transportation of aphid-infested plants and plant materials. Additionally, winged aphids have the mobility to transfer to another host plant.

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Types of Aphids

Where do aphids come from by species? There are over 4,000 species of aphids with about 250 of them considered as serious pests for crops and ornamental plants. Depending on the species, aphids can be found in different locations across the globe. Here are some of the most common types of aphids:

1. APPLE APHIDS


There are several species of apple aphids but green apple aphids, rosy apple aphids, and woolly apple aphids are the most common.

  • GREEN APPLE APHIDS
  • ROSY APPLE APHIDS
  • WOOLLY APPLE APHIDS

Woolly apple aphids (scientific name: Eriosoma lanigerum) are elliptical-shaped, small to medium-sized aphids that are typically reddish-brown. However, “woolly” and white cotton-like secretions found on their abdomens hide their true color. Woolly apple aphids are native to North America but can be found anywhere in the world where apple orchards are located.

2. OLEANDER APHIDS


Oleander aphids (scientific name: Aphis nerii, also called milkweed aphids) are bright yellow and possess black appendages. They are considered common pests and are often found in oleander, milkweed (such as butterfly weed and scarlet milkweed) as well as wax plants. They thrive in tropical to warm temperate areas and may have originated from the Mediterranean where oleanders are common.

3. POTATO APHIDS


Potato aphids (scientific name: Macrosiphum euphorbiae) are originally from North America but are now widely dispersed throughout the world. While this species prefers Solanaceae (potato in particular), potato aphids can also be found in other plant species from more than 20 families. Adult potato aphids can measure from 1.7 to 3.6 millimeters long and have elongated bodies. They are identified by their dark longitudinal stripe that runs along their dorsal surface. Potato aphids are known to be carriers of tomato and potato mosaic virus diseases.

4. ROSE APHIDS


Rose aphids (scientific name: Macrosiphum rosae) have spindle-shaped bodies and measure between 1.7 to 3.6 millimeters. They are long and slender with colors varying from green, pink, and reddish-brown. Rose aphids infest rose bushes during the spring and summer months. They typically congregate around new buds or on the tips of shoots.

5. COTTONWOOD APHIDS


Cottonwood aphids are usually found in cottonwood and poplar groves in Montana, New Mexico, and California.

Why Are Aphids Destructive?

aphids on water

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Where do aphids come from that they cause such damage? Aphids can reproduce parthenogenetically thus, they can multiply quickly without the involvement of male aphids. Female aphids give birth to wingless, living young instead of laying eggs. This enables an aphid colony to grow exponentially at a very short time.


In large numbers, aphids are capable of stunting plant growth, transmitting plant virus diseases, producing plant galls, and deforming the buds, flowers, and leaves of their host plant. Aphids can also attack plant roots, causing the plant to shrivel and die especially if it's young or newly grown. These capabilities for rapid growth and infestation make aphids serious pests to contend with. They can wreak havoc and cause significant damage to crops.

SYMPTOMS OF AN APHID INFESTATION


To determine if your plants are infested by aphids, look for the following signs and symptoms:

1. STICKY SECRETIONS

Honeydew is a sweet and sticky excretion produced by aphids. If you notice the presence of this sticky substance on your plant, it is most likely infested by aphids.

2. BLACK SPOTS

Sooty mold fungus turns honeydew secretions black. This causes black spots to form on the leaves, preventing light absorption needed by the plant for photosynthesis.

3. YELLOWISH, CURLING, OR WITHERING LEAVES

Honeydew is a sweet and sticky excretion produced by aphids. If you notice the presence of this sticky substance on your plant, it is most likely infested by aphids.

4. DEFORMED BLOOMS IN ROSE PLANTS

If you notice deformities in your rose plant's blooms, or if the quality and the number of blooms are diminishing, rose aphids might be infesting it.

5. CONSIDERABLE ANT POPULATION

ants and aphids

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Ants and aphids have a mutualistic relationship. In exchange for consuming the honeydew secretions produced by aphids, ants protect them from predators. If you notice an increase in ant population, it's most likely that aphids are infesting your plant.

HOW TO GET RID OF APHIDS


Mother nature has her own way of keeping the balance — ladybird beetles, damsel bugs, lacewings, and other predators feed on aphids and keep their population in check. However, if aphids are a chronic problem for your plants and crops, it's advisable to do regular and thorough scouting to check for infestation. The good news is, aphids are relatively easy to spot. Their identifying features are quite unique — aphids are colorful and possess cornicles, a caudal tail, and long antennae.

ENVIRONMENT-FRIENDLY WAYS TO CONTROL AN APHID INFESTATION


There are methods to treat an aphid infestation without the use of chemical insecticides. It would be good to note that some aphid species are resistant to carbamates, organophosphates, and pyrethroids so it's not recommended to use them for the long-term management of aphids. These insecticide classes will wipe out the aphids' natural enemies and it might take a year to restore their population.

1. PROPER CULTIVATION

Some organic gardeners believe that weak plants are susceptible to aphid infestation and that proper cultivation can help contain the destruction caused by these pests. Soil conditions may not be ideal, causing the plant to become weak and unhealthy. In his book, Salad Leaves for all Seasons, Charles Dowding recommends watering plants regularly to reduce aphid population. The periodic spraying of plants with a strong and thorough water jet (or soap sprays) will also help protect them from being infested by aphids.

2. LADYBIRD BEETLES AND OTHER PREDATORS

Introducing natural predators of aphids into the system such as ladybird beetles will help eradicate aphids considerably without causing harm to the environment.

3. MANUALLY REMOVING APHIDS

While it may seem like a lot of work, do not underestimate the power of manually picking off aphids from your plants. It has been proven to be a simple yet effective way of keeping their numbers down.

4. USE OF PARASITOIDS

The use of natural parasites is another non-invasive and effective method to keep infestation low. Parasitoids lay about 200-300 eggs in aphids and as the larvae hatch and develop from within (through endoparasitism), the aphid slowly weakens and eventually dies. Mini-wasps such as Aphidius colemani and Aphidius ervi are known to affect more than 40 species of aphids.


Aphidius colemani are especially effective in attacking melon or cotton aphids (Aphis gossypii) but are also known to attack green peach aphids (Myzus persicae), tobacco aphids (Myzus nicotianae), and bird cherry-oat aphids (Rhopalosiphum padi).

Aphidius ervi are parasites used on potato aphids (Macrosiphum euphorbiae), foxglove aphids (Aulacorthum solani), and pea aphids (Acyrthosiphon pisum).

5. STICKY TRAPS

Sticky traps are mainly used for trapping and monitoring. However exercise care when using them, as they can trap all airborne insect populations — including parasitic wasps.

6. BIOLOGICAL INSECTICIDES

Another option you can explore is the use of biological insecticides based on fungi such as Lecanicillium lecanii, Beauveria bassiana, or Isariafumosorosea because fungi are the main pathogens of aphids.

Conclusion

Where do aphids come from? When are they active? How do they reproduce? How do I manage an infestation? We hope that we were able to answer these questions substantially so that you will know what to do firsthand to avoid the destruction that aphids can do to your beloved plants or crops. While aphids can be a chronic concern, there are ways to control their numbers. Just be diligent in scouting for them, especially during seasons when they are active. Where do aphids come from? It doesn't really matter as long as you're prepared for them when they come.

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