By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director
Horror movies have, for over a century, featured a pantheon of destructive creatures rampaging through the world. Their characteristics have varied over the decades, but they always manage to return.
In recent years zombies have been the nightmare of choice. Kill one and 5,000 come to its funeral, and then return to sacking society.
More than half a century ago it was vampires. Bella Lugosi terrified audiences as Count Dracula, the Transylvanian predator whose sole desire was to suck the life out of victims.
It is hard to fathom such real life fiends lurking in the dim recesses of a movie house, much less Wakulla County’s landscape, but they do.
As hideous as the thought may be, the area is now literally crawling with these life draining creatures.
Aphids, fortunately for the human residents, have an insatiable thirst for the juices of plants. They locate a suitable victim and latch on to satisfy their unquenchable need.
Much like the celluloid villain with a black cape, aphids avoid the exposure to the sun.
Instead they prefer to stay in the shady cloisters of their plant hosts.
All the while these tiny vampires are draining the life sustaining fluids by using their piercing mouthparts to savage the plant’s vascular system.
Aphids are minute pear-shaped, soft-bodied insects. Their high reproductive potential and ability to transmit viral diseases make aphids a significant pest of crops worldwide.
There are approximately 4,400 aphid species worldwide in the Aphididae family, but they are more commonly found in the warmer regions of the globe.
There are several variations of the aphid’s life cycle which depends on their environmental conditions.
Here in the spring, female nymphs hatch from the eggs on the primary host plant and feed to maturity.
Aphids alternate primary host plants with secondary hosts.
Winged forms of this insect migrate and feed on summer crops available at the time. Winds will carry the tiny aphids to locales far beyond their ability to reach unaided.
Males and females are hatched in the fall. They then migrate onto winter hosts where eggs are laid for overwintering during the cold weather.
Depending on the specie, aphids come in several colors locally. Red, black, yellow and green can be found in Wakulla County.
A wooden stake through an aphid’s heart would be challenging at best, but even they have a vulnerability to forces beyond their control. The worst nightmare of this plant parasite arrives on brightly colored armor plated wings.
Ladybugs or lady beetles are tiny carnivores with an affinity for eating aphids as the former blithely dines on the plants. Slow and soft bodied, the aphids are easy prey for the much larger ladybugs.
Close examination reveals the ladybug’s mandibles would be the envy of any avenging hero sent to right the wrongs perpetrated on hapless victims. Aphids stand no chance against a ladybug.
Of course aphids can be controlled with specific conventional and organic pesticides. Unfortunately, the ladybugs can fall victim to the same treatments.
This tiny backyard melodrama plays out daily in the unseen world behind the leaves. Aphids are discovered and destroyed, but they will be back.