A hungry aphid lion plucks a milkweed aphid from the herd

A few weeks ago the first Aphis nerii of the season showed up in our little prairie garden. These little orange globes multiplied to plague proportions within days. The butterfly weed was hit hard, dropping its plumes of orange flowers and withering.

The bounty of aphids didn’t go unnoticed for long. Lots of insects eat aphids, and before long the rows of aphids had succumbed to the developing larvae of aphid wasps, turning to hardened brown mummies. Armies of furry aphid lions appeared- larvae of the common green lacewings that frequent porch lights*- to pick among the survivors.

Aphid lions are particularly effective predators, perhaps more so than the ladybirds and preying mantids more commonly marketed as garden beneficials. Their mouthparts are elongated into sharp hollow needles that quickly pierce their prey and drain them dry within minutes.

The long jaws of aphid lions are hollow, allowing them to suck up the juices of their hapless prey

*Lacewings also visit bug zappers, unfortunately. Do you know what doesn’t visit bug zappers? Mosquitoes. You’re an idiot if you use those things, as bug zappers have a high kill rate against friendly insects while doing nothing against the most common biting insects.