‘Twas two weeks before Christmas – Giant bark aphids, Longistigma caryae and giant willow aphids, Tuberolachnus salignus

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas – Giant bark aphids, Longistigma caryae and giant willow aphids, Tuberolachnus salignus

 

Some adult giant bark aphids have wings and others do not. These are the largest aphids in North America.

 

This week we dive into the Bug of the Week mailbag to learn about some fantastic aphids discovered on limbs of a beautiful oak tree near the Chesapeake Bay.

On the branch of a beautiful oak tree, giant bark aphids are tended by ants. This classic mutualism, with ants protecting aphids from predators and parasites and in return receiving honeydew from aphids, is a partnership found in several countries around the world. Image credit: Catherine Carr

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas and what did I see, But some giant bark aphids on a leafless shade tree. 

Aphids are not usually known for their very large size, But these babes on tree limbs win the “big-aphid” prize. 

As steadfast sap-suckers they spent several past weeks Sipping plant-sap from branches through stout hollow beaks. 

Aphid moms slurp sweet phloem by night and by day, And transform it to nymphs – born alive, by the way. 

In this colony of giant willow aphids, the large female on the upper left portion of the branch is giving birth to a daughter.

These strange spawning efforts are quite something to see, Bug-geeks call this birth-trick viviparity.  

As autumn days wane and cold winds start to blow These gals change their game-plan. They just seem to know. 

No more birthing of youngsters on twigs in the cold, They lay eggs on tree branches, many thousand all told. 

Eggs of the giant bark aphid are the overwintering stage. They line small branches by the thousands and change from amber to black as they age.

Tiny black aphid eggs seem the perfect life stage To brave wicked winter when vicious storms rage. 

And if aphids can dream, their fond hope might just be That no hungry egg-eaters find their young on the tree. 

In this season of darkness of cold and of gloom Not far off is a season when trees start to bloom.

Cast off fear giant aphids, be glad and be happy! Next spring eggs will hatch when trees get all sappy. 

Through millions of years your plan has been true What more can be said? Happy holidays to you!

Braving icy winds and freezing temperatures, giant willow aphids try to squeeze in one more generation before Old Man Winter puts an end to their season.

Acknowledgements

 Bug of the Week extends apologies to Clement Clark Moore.  We also thank Dr. Catherine Carr for providing the inspiration and an image for this episode. Like woolly alder aphids, woolly beech aphids (aka beech blight aphids), and others we met in previous episodes, these aphids reproduce parthenogenetically, that is without males. To learn more about magnificent giant aphids on beech and willows, please visit the following websites:  

University of Florida Featured Creatures: giant bark aphid

InfluentialPoints.com: Tuberolachnus salignus, Giant willow aphid

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