A Voracious Aphid Lion

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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.

10 thoughts on “A Voracious Aphid Lion”

  1. I doubt any Alex Wild fans use bug zappers. To many people, the only good bug is a dead bug, and they love the sweet crackle of bugs frying in the zapper.

    This blog is one of the best ways to change that, but it preaches to the choir. We can mitigate bug hatred by converting the tiny percentage of people interested enough to learn about ecology, but I don’t think we can change it.

    Most bugs ARE freaky. They scurry around, they land on you and crawl all over, they’re always getting into things (like food) where you don’t want them, and a good portion of them bite or do things that feel like biting (sharp claws on bare skin, etc.). They will always be hated, but at least the readers of this blog can get meet on the internet and share the beauty and wonder of our world.

  2. My father used a bug zapper for exactly one summer. He learned quickly that all those electrical noises and flashes of light did not equate to fewer mosquito bites later. Lesson learned.

  3. You know, it has occurred to me that a bug-zapper with a very different lure might be much more selective and effective for its stated purpose. Instead of using lights, we could bait it with – People!

    No, seriously. Make a little screen house for a person to sit in, with electrified grid panels replacing some or all of the screens, and then just hang out in it for several hours a day. Or, for portability, an “Electric Sombrero” with an electrified grid brim that toasts them on the go – fine for garden work, and prevents sunburn, too!

    Although, something other than an electrified grid might be better. Maybe a suction system to vacuum them up instead. But anyway, what better bait for insects that bite humans, than a human? The beauty of this is that not only would it clear out the biting insects, but it would also apply selective pressure against biting humans, to the point that we might ultimately have mosquitos just as numerous as they are now, but almost completely uninterested in biting us!

    Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

  4. I feel a little dumb that after years of black light trapping, I never really noticed the lack of mosquitoes. But thinking back, I can’t remember any and if black lights attracted significant numbers of mosquitoes, then there often should have been heaps. I can actually remember slapping mosquitoes while blacklighting, but not seeing any on the sheet.

    I saw my first owl fly at a bug zapper (a Dairy Queen in North Carolina if memory serves), but I can’t say I’m a fan. I once asked someone with a zapper why he used it when it was obviously ineffective – he enjoyed the zap, as a kind of revenge against the insects that annoyed him. Interesting logic, but I suspect he disliked all insects, so I suppose he thought I was the one with a logic deficit.

  5. How long does it take to a lacewing baby to hatch from the eggs? I saw many of their eggs at a nearby meadow, and I’d need their help at home at my balcony… I also tried to bring some ladybugs (imago) home, but they were not really interested in the Aphis nerii colony I have on one of my flowers… Ladybug larvae might have worked better but at that time I could not find any of them nearby. (I do have a nice team of larvae on another plant, but they are Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata kids, eating mildew…)

    On mosquitoes: as for my own experiences the best way to protect ourselves is to use some herbal oil repellent on our own skin, it won’t kill any insect but still protects us. As being an amateur astronomer myself I spent a lot of nights outside this summer while we in Hungary had a huge mass of mosquitoes this year (due to unusual amount of rain that produced large wet places for the mosquitoes to multiply themselves) and the repellents worked very well for me.

  6. Pingback: Green Lacewings (alive) | The Backyard Arthropod Project

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