Tuesday 15 June 2010

ABC Wednesday V is for Vermin or ‘Who’d be an aphid?’

Definition from Chambers:
singular or plural noun
1 a collective name for wild animals that spread disease or generally cause a nuisance, especially rats and other rodents. 2 detestable people. verminous
adj1 like vermin; parasitic; vile. 2 infested with vermin.
14c: from Latin vermis worm.

I have stretched the definition and taken the phrase 'generally cause a nuisance' to apply to aphids. The usual colour is green and in Britain they are called greenfly, which sounds quite attractive; they can also be black (blackfly) brown or even pink. In other countries they are known as plant lice, which definitely sounds repulsive. Whatever their nomenclature, they are universally acknowledged as some of the most destructive insects attacking cultivated plants in temperate climes.
It's rare to see just one greenfly! Where are its friends and relations?
They are very successful organisms and have been in existence for about 280 million years. They are preyed on by many enemies, including birds, ladybirds, parasitic wasps, lacewings and even some parasitic fungi.
There they are! All shapes and sizes and moulted skins too - delightful! 
There is a strange relationship between some ant species and aphids. The ants are said to 'farm' the aphids. They protect their 'ant cows' on the plant food, fighting off predators, and eating the honeydew they produce. These 'dairy farmer' ants have been observed stroking the aphids with their antennae to stimulate them to release honeydew.
Blackfly on a dock leaf stem. Safety in numbers?
Here is Farmer Ant with his herd. One of the aphids has wings, maybe preparing to fly to another feeding station.
Some species of ants collect and store aphid eggs in their nests through the winter, carrying newly-hatched young back to the plants in the spring.Aphids produce many generations each year. In March eggs that were laid the previous October hatch into wingless females. No males are hatched. As the female nymphs grow they moult several times. Once they reach maturity they give birth to live daughters without recourse to fertilisation, a process known as parthenogenesis or asexual reproduction. The new generation of females grows quickly and reproduces asexually but some of the daughters will develop wings and fly to new food plants. The pattern repeats throughout the summer, with winged and wingless generations generally alternating. A change occurs in October, when the first male aphids are produced. They have wings and fly to a tree to be joined by winged females. These females produce wingless daughters and the males mate with these when they are mature. The resulting eggs are laid on the tree, ready to overwinter. They are black with thick shells to withstand extremes of temperature. 
Aphids are very interesting creatures but can cause a great deal of damage. Their numbers increase rapidly, doubling every four to six days. While their natural predators help to control the population explosion, some other means are usually needed. A simple way is to spray them with a strong jet of water – this may not help more delicate plants! Another method is to put a couple of drops of washing-up liquid in a gallon of water and use this mixture as a spray. Companion planting may help. Chives, spearmint, garlic, basil, coriander, alliums are all said to deter aphids. Flowers like nasturtiums are particularly attractive to aphids – the black variety in our garden! – but will keep nearby plants free of them. Sunflowers attract ants and aphids and are such strong plants that they are usually unaffected by these little beasties.
Thank you to Denise Nesbitt and her willing team who organise and host this weekly meme. To see more entries please click here.


  1. Good close-up pictures of those little bugs!

  2. Great V post for the day, Janice! Really interesting information! Hope your week is going well so far! Enjoy!


  3. There was one photo that looked quite good, until I saw what was written underneath.

    By the way, I am not too hungry anymore now...

  4. Fascinating post! We have some sort of vermin on our roses and are trying to get rid of them. Love your photos!

  5. Yuck-o. I don't like vermin...insects or animal.
    Very interesting post.

  6. Interesting post. I remember reading quite a few years ago about one year when aphids had a population boom. It was theorised that ladybirds increased in kind to counter them. A case of nature's balance?

  7. It look like blackbug to me. Does it smell when you smack them? They like to gather in a post lamp too. Great macro shots thanks for sharing!

    ABC Wednesday~V

  8. The name plant vermin sounds pretty gross.
    But they are fascinating creatures. It's really interesting that the ants actually keep them in herds.

  9. That's one thing I like about aging vision. I can't see many of these winged beasts without eye aids and superb photography such as yours! Good post!

  10. Well informed about those dratted creatures - I think it takes a magic wand to get rid of them! Thanks for a great post.

  11. Ah yes the Ant Cattle as I called them. Ours are green over here, never seen them black like these before, very interesting post on Aphids for the Letter V for Vermin.

    I even seen some with what looks like to be horns all over their tiny bodies, not sure if they were even in the aphids family or not, a few years ago I gave the name as as mean tiny little monsters with horns. The ants here also protects these creatures too.

  12. Yikes ! what a word, lol ! I think you will be the only one using vermins ! (btw it's the same word in french but written "vermine"

  13. VERY interesting. VERMIN and VARMINTS clearly have the same roots.

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  14. We have lots of black flies and aphids - a sure sign of summer.

  15. That is a fascinating study on the aphid, thanks Janice. Your close-ups are wonderful too. I felt sorry for those poor roses.

    An English Girl Rambles

  16. Vigilance needed, no wonder it can feel like a loosing battle if they are doubling every 4 days. I thought they were just hiding:-)

  17. Even the most harmful creatures in their own purpose also breed goodness for their own benefit we humans never decipher.

    Great interesting and educational post. There's a lot to learn from you Jan.

    Cheekily, I can use the adjective "verminous" to the erratics. lol


  18. I am at war with white flies and these black aphid types that keep killing my plants. Sigh... I'm trying to be environmental but it's not doing the best job of keeping my flowers healthy. These are amazing photos.

  19. I left a comment before I don't see it. I must have been rushing again and forgot to do the word verification. I do that a lot.

    I just wanted to say your photos are fabulous. I am in an ongoing war with white flies and those aphids. They keep killing my plants. Sheesh!

  20. Thank you everyone :-)
    All creatures have their purpose though sometimes it's hard to recognise what that may be!

  21. May be you should get some lady bugs. I know they eat aphids. I won't like your bugs with my plants.

  22. An interesting post, Janice, and very informative. I like your photos but not the bugs...

  23. Fascinating-I would never have thought the little pests could be so interesting! In Forest School there are some beautiful thistles that are thick with black fly. I do find them a little yucky I have to say! I didn't know the extent to which ants will go either!

  24. As you know we keep hens and live in a farming community so rats are inevitable. Is there a way to deal with the situation which is kind? Rat poison certainly isn't so hubby will have to shoot them! It's quick!

  25. Do you know, we've only seen ONE ladybird this summer? Where are they all when you need them?
    Our rat visitors are dispatched swiftly by Barry with his air rifle - much kinder and it provides fresh meat for the corvids!


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