Sunday, June 13, 2010

plant lice & farming ants

Aphid giving live birth

I am running into my fair share of gardening mishaps during my novice gardening experiment... my big battle right now is aphids. And neglect - I haven't been home much during the daytime hours to give the garden love, just some early morning or late night watering. But yesterday I noticed some ant action on some plants and some hardcore feasting, resulting in swiss cheese leaves.

Aphids are plant lice. Enough said. Gross.

Aphids are gnarly little creatures - disgusting and destructive, but really interesting. They are a small, plant eating insect. There are thousands of different species (over 4,000), but the ones that attract ants have symbiotic relationship with the ants. These ants are referred to as "dairying ants" because they come and "milk" the aphids - meaning they stroke the aphids with their antennae to collect the honeydew the aphids produce. Weeeeird. 

Some farming ants go as far as to store aphid eggs over the winter. Aphids are sometimes sexual and sometimes asexual - they also sometimes lay eggs and sometimes give birth. They are very confused about their identity, which is why they need so much creepy ant love.

Organic solution:
1) I remember when I was younger that my mom mail-ordered some aphid-eating lady bugs, also known as ladybirds, for her garden and 2) I have read about spraying a diluted dish soap (organic/bio-degradable, of course) solution to fend off aphids - so I am researching these two options. Hence, my intense aphid description. More later.

Photo credit: Wikapedia via Creative Commons


  1. We use the dish soap method which seems to work ok but we're not diligent enough... it sometimes leaves a little white residue around the base of the plant, but it's Dr. Bronner soap so it's definitely all natural.

    I love the lady bug idea! On a side note, I found a lady bug on our kale from the farmer's market who had stayed alive in the fridge for a week! Hearty little lady! I put her in the garden right away... i hope it cured her frostbite!

    and ewww to plant lice! although that pic is fascinating!

  2. that is the most disgusting photograph/caption. it's everything that freaks me out.

  3. Kate - I think I'm going to try the dishsoap method, but I just found some lady bugs on the plants (naturally) and I don't want to kill them!! I'm so conflicted.. I hope your lady lives!!

    junebug - sorry to freak you out!! Isn't it awesome though?