Saturday, April 5, 2008

An Aphid Invasion!

The aphids are coming!
The aphids are coming!

I'm afraid that this warning is a bit late for this stand of Hamelia patens or Firebush. About a half of the individual plants are already affected to one degree or another. One is already completely defoliated and the others are all a flitter with insect activity. Notice the shine from the honeydew on this plant - Add the cupping of the new growth and you can be pretty certain you have a healthy community of aphids.

On a side note, I want to share with you the first aphid treatment I ever read about (and this was my practice for years!). Treatment consisted of a Q-tip and rubbing alcohol. It works well, but it would take hours of time and gallons of rubbing alcohol for this infestation. Of course, this treatment was described in a book about houseplants. . . .

Pictured above is one of the Hamelia paten (Firebush) that has not been affected yet. I was a little unconvinced when my husband suggested that we just leave this planting alone and let nature take its course. He even opined that this could be good as it would attract lots of beneficials to our yard. Although he has farmed for over 30 years, I wasn't convinced and did a bit of research on my own. In his article, Aphids in Texas Landscapes, Bastiaan M. Drees from Texas A & M concurs.

There are many different kinds of aphids and most entomologists will tell you that identifying your pest exactly is not important. Notice the yellow aphids on this firebush. If you look closely you can see some white skins. Aphids molt about 4 times on their journey from larvae to adult stage.

To further prove his point, my hubby took me outside to check for beneficials. This orange ladybug was the first we saw. She was moving so fast that I had a hard time getting a good picture. I guess when you have this number of aphids to devour you have no time to waste!

There are about 500 different Ladybug species in the United States and almost 5,000 worldwide! They come in a variety of colors (Reds, yellows, orange, gray, black, brown and even pink) with and without dots.

Check out the spreading wings on this ladybug. She must be ready to fly off to a new - and more bountiful - plant. A ladybug egg hatches somewhere between 4 and 10 days. But the "baby" is not exactly a miniature of the adult.

The above bug is a ladybug larvae, often refered to as an alligator. The close-up picture below depicts just how descriptive the name "alligator" is.

The presence of alligators is a good sign that we are well on the way to controlling our aphid infestation. It means that we have multiple generations of beneficials in our garden. This alligator is so much duller than the others. I wonder if it is molting. It has the same markings as the vibrantly colored one above. The Ladybug Lady shares larvae and adult pictures that show various ladybug species.

My husband pointed out this white fuzzy beneficial. He couldn't give me a name for it but assured me this is a good guy! Looking at this plant might make you think you need to take some action. But look a bit closer. Most of the markings are molted skins. To treat at this point would kill your garden beneficials.
Could this bug have been inspiration for the set designer of The Matrix? Up close, he does look pretty vicious!

Happy gardening from my little biology lab to yours!


Unknown said...

GOOD FOR YOU (and hubby too) Mary Beth, for taking a laissez-faire approach to your aphid invasion. The only thing I ever do with aphids is wash them off the plants indoors, occasionally on a couple of rugosa roses that attract them outdoors, and leave trap plants around for them to go to. Then I just let the rest of nature take its course with them, and it works nicely.

Love the pictures of the 'alligators'. I'm really glad you posted those because I know of people who saw them, thought they were a pest...and you know the rest of the story....

Anonymous said...

Mary Beth, I have always a battle at my hands with aphids. I have also the little helpers, the ladybirds and their ferocious "children". Many times I was tempted to get the spray bottle against the aphids and then a ladybird would appear from under a leaf and I let nature take its course.

Mary Beth said...

Jodi and Trudi - Mother Nature is wonderful, isn't she! None of the unaffected plants has any aphids! Those ladybugs and their alligators are doing a wonderful job for us! Here's to a garden teeming with critters!

Meems said...

Mary Beth, Very interesting post on the good and the bad of bugs in the garden. It made me go check on my Firebush plants... no bad bug so far. Whew! I have seen a few ladybugs lately and hope they are getting full somewhere.

There's an award waiting for you at my blog.
Meems @Hoe&Shovel

Aiyana said...

Hi Mary Beth,
We use the Q-Tip and rubbing alcohol treatment on prickly pear cochineal scale. That is certainly easier than trying to remove aphids from a large Firebush!
Interesting post and link.

Shirley said...

Hi there Mary-Beth, I read this with great interest :-)

I am activiely looking to attract aphids this year - strange but true! Why I hear you ask. I live in Scotland and I have Nestboxes in my garden and last year the eight Blue tit chicks died as the parents couldn't find enough food due to changes in weather etc.

This year I have planted climbing roses near the nestbox and I am hoping for aphids :-D

Michelle said...

Interesting lesson today Mary Beth. Thanks for the info. I am the worst about insects and grabbing the spray. I will definately rethink the situation before I get so trigger happy next time. Well, I am off to search my plants for alligators!!

Happy Planting~

Anonymous said...

aphids are evil!! We've had our own invasion but trying to be organic as have to let it go and simply lure beneficial bugs to take care of the problems for us. Apparently you can even order ladybugs online and have them shipped to you.

Kasey Juarez said...

This is great, I just got online today looking for what is going on with my Jatropha. I knew it was some sort of infestation and now I believe it is Aphids! I went out to see what's going on and it looks like the aphids are winning and there aren't any beneficials. I'm in Weslaco and was wondering if you know of anyplace I can get lady bugs to help me out or have any suggestions.

Mary Beth said...

KJUAREZ - in your area, I would first call Mid Valley Garden and Pond Supply and Valley Garden Center. If you can't find any in the mid-valley, there is an organic nursery in Port Isabel - Veranda's. And, of course, you can order them online. The honeydew (sticky stuff) will attract beneficials. I struggled with aphids on my jatropha for a number of years - so far so good this year!

Cynda said...

Just ran across your post on the wee fluffy bugs. So, these are the good guys? I've just noticed them in the last couple of days on my peppers plants as I've been putting a soapy solution on them to deter aphids. I appricate the post!


emilyjjs said...

That white fuzzy bug looks like a mealy bug. Those are devastating little pests.