Woolly aphids sure sound cute… Until you notice a flock of them has landed on your favorite plant, like this echinacea.
These guys are the size of a pencil lead, fluffy white and travel in large groups. You don’t usually see just one of these guys. The white fluff is actually a wax that protects the insect. They aren’t specific in their meals and can be seen feeding on foliage, buds, twigs and branches, bark, and even the roots.
If no action is taken damage materializes as twisted and curled leaves, yellowing foliage, generally poor plant growth, branch dieback, or even the development of cankers and galls.
Parasites, predators and even heavy rainfall will help reduce the populations naturally. If you believe the natural population controls need your help you can use a forceful stream of water from the garden hose to dislodge the aphids or prune and remove selected, heavily infested stems and water sprouts. I like squishing them. Spraying with insecticide is rarely justified.
These were lined up on my echinacea stem. When I moved in with my gloved hand, they jumped quite powerfully, out of the way of my squishing fingers. Ah, looks like I was going to have to be faster. Boom. I move in and wiped the stem in a swift motion. 6 down, with only two jumpers. Next stem fairs better with 4 casualties and no jumpers. I got this.
There are numerous species of woolly aphids, and they feed on many types of plants. They usually require two separate food plants called the primary host and the secondary host. They live on the primary host plant during winter and spring, on the secondary host plant in summer, and then return to the primary host. However, there are several cycles between the start and end of the season. Their seasonal, breeding cycle is very strange. Let’s see if you can wrap your mind around these funny gals:
- In fall, the eggs are laid on the primary host.
- In spring, they hatch into wingless females.
- These females give birth to live young without mating (parthenogenesis). Each female can give birth to hundreds more wingless females.
- In late spring to early summer, the wingless females give birth to winged females that fly to the secondary host plant, where they give birth to wingless females again.
- In late summer and early fall, winged females will again be born.
- They fly back to the primary host plants and change things up a bit by cloning themselves as both female and males!
- The males and females mate and the mated females lay eggs. Low temperatures kill the adult aphids while the eggs wait patiently under the mulch for the warmth to start the cycle again!
That’s some crazy Shyt!!
© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl