Aphids Alive!

Aphids feed on Milkweed Plant

Even in their final gasps, the milkweeds down in the meadow are alive with diners of all stripes.

This aggregation consists of orange aphids I found only on milkweed. As I understand it, while some adult aphids are winged and move around like most insects, they sometimes lay eggs that hatch only into parthenogenetic females (and this is a scary thought:) who don’t need males to have their own aphid young. So they waste no energy primping for Mr. Right. They just suck the bitter milky sap of milkweed and get fat and pregnant and life is good.

But wait a minute: not too fast! Don’t I remember that one of the chief natural predators of aphids is the ladybug beetle? Dear Lord, we’re up to the eaves in Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles (who will soon return to co-habit our homes in large numbers.) So you would think these aphids would not be long for this world, and perhaps not be so repulsed by the enormous number of them. Only a small number may survive the even larger number of MALBs soon to begin pre-winter feeding themselves.

And the strangest thing on our walk yesterday: certain twigs on the floor of the logging road we walk were lined by a wavering wisp of white. Wooly Aphids had fallen in line only along certain blades of grass and small branches on the ground; and they were all oscillating slowly back and forth as if in a dance. I called Ann back to see it. What were they doing? Was this a mating behavior maybe? They weren’t feeding; some were even on rocks, doing the same shimmy-dance. Wish I’d had my camera! Anybody else seen this and maybe have a clue what’s going on?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Hi, I came across your blog through a google search on “dancing aphids”. I have also witnessed the dance of the aphids, but of the orange milkweed variety. I thought it was fascinating too. It reminded me of a school of fish turning and darting in synchronization. I was wondering what it was that triggered the movement. Was it sound or vibrations? Groups of the aphids seem to move in harmony. Nature is awesome.

  2. I teach a garden class and challenged by student to come up with the reason that the aphids were dancing in sychronized form. I would love to know this answer to this…..It is quite amazing.