Photo of the Week – February 23, 2018

Before I start this post, here is an important disclaimer.  I am not someone you should take advice from regarding aphids.  I don’t know much about the life cycle of aphids, I don’t know much about their potential to cause damage to crops or other plants, and I don’t know anything about whether or not you should control aphids in your garden/farm/prairie.  Ok?  Ok.

Aphids on whorled milkweed in our yard.

I think aphids are among the most interesting looking creatures in prairies.  I’ve also found them very tricky to photograph.  First, of course, they’re stinking small, which adds a degree of difficulty.  Second, they usually appear in big herds (which I assume is the proper term for a large number of aphids – please don’t tell me otherwise), and it’s hard to decide where to focus.  Regardless, I keep trying to photograph them because they’re just awfully cute.  One of these days maybe I’ll get an image I’m actually satisfied with.

Aphids on stiff goldenrod at The Nature Conservancy’s Bluestem Prairie, Minnesota.

The milkweed plants in our backyard prairie garden often have pretty big herds of aphids roaming around them, especially by late summer.  Maybe I should be upset or worried about that, but I’m just not.  I’m not trying to make money from those milkweed plants, and I’m not hoping to eat them.  Sure, I’d be pleased if monarchs laid their eggs on them, but I have the plants mainly because I enjoy looking at them, and I enjoy seeing what kinds of little creatures I can find on and around them.

I hear that some kinds of aphids can be really problematic on some kinds of garden and farm crops, and I don’t doubt that.  I harbor no ill feelings toward people trying to control the population of aphids on crops.  However, in the prairies I work with, and in our family’s prairie garden, aphids are welcome.  I enjoy watching ants farming aphids, I like the different colors of aphids I find, and I like the fun little spikes coming out of their butts.

A particularly nice aphid herd on butterfly milkweed in my prairie garden.

If you’re waiting for some kind of profound or pithy statement on the ecological value or impact of aphids, you’re not going to get it from me.  I just like aphids, and as I was trying to figure out what image or images to use for this Photo of the Week post, I stumbled across a few recent shots of aphids.  Did I mention how cute they are?


About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
This entry was posted in Prairie Insects, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Photo of the Week – February 23, 2018

  1. Bob Wright says:

    Entomologists would refer to aphid colonies, not herds :)

  2. Andrew Sipocz says:

    An assembly of aphids!

  3. I first worried about aphids when I found them all over the swamp milkweed I had planted the year before and that had just started growing in our wetland-restoration. In fact, that first year the aphids destroyed the blossoms and seed-set was a bust. The second year, however, when aphids covered the blossoms once again, something different happened: predators came in. That year whenever I looked at the milkweed, likely as not I would spot the larvae of lacewings, syrphid flies, or lady beetles–often with an aphid-body halfway down the gullet. Spiders took up residence, wheel bugs appeared, and the amazing jagged ambush bugs were there, pretending to be petals. Who knows what all the factors were–but the aphid-wave receded and the milkweed blossomed lushly. That fall the whole wetland was covered with downy seeds. Would we have had such seed-abundance without the aphids in the first place? Maybe. But in actual sequence, the waves of herbivores, carnivores, and seeds were connected to each other.

  4. Pat Halderman says:

    Awesome photos and it may not be correct but I love the thought of “herds” of aphids. I too think they are very cute!

  5. Jim Pyrzynski says:

    Seeing that they are sometimes referred to as being an ant colony’s cows, “herd” seems appropriate.

  6. chris Muldoon says:

    I appreciate your tolerance of (affection for?) all creatures, “good and not so good.” I don’t know if I’m correct on this or not, but it’s my understanding that lots of aphids are native and, when in doubt, for that reason alone, should be considered a natural part of a given habitat, and therefore — that’s not to say “liked,” but rather, not hated, either.

    Hatred will not win any battles, methinks, ever! As someone who appreciates creation, I’m uncomfortable with phrases like “Die, buckthorn (or other alien), die.”

  7. Terrific, colorful photos. Thanks.

  8. Rick Champeau says:

    Looking forward to the “wave.. of
    carnivores” this coming season.

  9. shoreacres says:

    The first time I found and photographed aphids on milkweed, they were being consumed by some very happy lady beetles. It was an amazing thing to watch, not only because it was the first time I’d gotten a good look at the aphids (thank you, macro lens) but also because it was the first time I’d seen those slick little lady beetles that don’t have any spots. It was something to see — and, yes. The aphids are cute.

  10. Did you see the round beige bloated aphids in your photo? They are called Mummies and indicate a parasitic wasp laid her egg on that aphid. The aphid becomes the case the wasp larva pupates in. I love seeing the food web at work and aphids are a great example of a prey insect that many others interact with.

  11. Natalie Matz says:

    I’m planning on a making wooly aphid costume for an art/bug event in Omaha in April. I chose a wooly aphid for no other reason than they look so cool!

  12. One time I accidentally popped a piece of broccoli that was covered in aphids into my mouth.
    Don’t try it.


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