Thursday, September 29, 2011

Woolly Aphids

Woolly Aphids?  No, not my latest installation piece, something even cooler. 
Yesterday as I was ambling towards the Alder to pick some cones for dyeing, I noticed a mass of white on one of the branches.  I thought at first it was some kind of fungus but when I looked closer I saw that this mass of "fungus" was moving ever so slightly.  Ants were walking to and fro and at first I thought they were eating these things, whatever they were, but as I watched for a while it seemed they were acting like little sheep herders instead.

(be sure to click on the pictures to see them a bit larger)

I pulled the branch down a little lower so I could get a better look and one of the bigger ants ran towards my hand, clearly perturbed that I was messing with their flock.  I noticed that the ants were kind of stroking the white mass with their antennae and the word that came to mind was that they were "tending" these things and the little black spots looked like aphids.  When I came in and googled "ants tending aphids" I found my answer. (don't you love it when it happens like that?  Sometimes I have the hardest time finding information but this just fell in my lap)

These ants were tending aphids.  Woolly Alder Aphids.  These aphids secrete a sweet substance called honeydew which the ants love.  Some species of ants will tend a flock of aphids, gently stroking them to gather up the honeydew.  It is said that some ants will eat so much their abdomen will become huge with the stuff.  Easy on the sweets, boys.  Everything in moderation...


This was my "man, nature is awesome" moment of the day and I wanted to share it with you.
I hope you're bumping into amazing things today too.


RedTwigBrownTwig said...

They are incredible! Great photos. I'm always fascinated when I find spittle bugs, they make their own bubbles.

Anonymous said...

well, wow
thanks for sharing these photos !
I knew ants were doing this with aphids, but I had never seen wooly aphids, they are so darn cute !!!!

Cindy Lane said...

Happy "sheep" with their "shepherds"! Love the images.

Unfortunately the ant shepherds in my succulent garden and fuschia tree have let the sheep run riot! They are too drunk on honeydew to stop the rampage of the millions of furry white "scale" (as they are called heer sometimes.

Off to look at more of your beautiful blog,



~mel said...

Neat entry! Don't you just love it when you go and do a search and it pops right up ~ congrats on that. I have a tendency of getting side tracked whenever I go searching on the internet. Seriously, the other day I was looking up care of the elephant ear plant and ended up seeing a step by step illustration of an appendectomy????

Tumus said...

That's pretty cool, I didn't know aphids could even be wooly like that.

Anonymous said...

How very cool! I've never heard of such a thing, but wow. Good eye, Lisa. = )

Anonymous said...

It is cool, yet gross looking. You are brave. I wouldn't have pull it down to get a closer look.

kristin said...

that IS a "wow" moment Lisa! maybe we'll see a lil fish studios interpretation in wool in the future?

Scrapiana said...

Amazing! My magic moment today was seeing a nuthatch hammering at the trunk of a tree (and did he hammer!! - must have had a headache by the end of it!). Such a pretty little bird too, and I caught his swooping flight and song also: the perfect spot. More here:

Lisa2 said...

I still don't get it the little black things are aphids which I can see - are those pods like eggs in the last picture - like what is the white wooly part? Is each aphid covered in cotton looking fluff?


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