Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Excited For Aphids

Every year without fail, some of the leaves on my River Birch change, becoming weirdly distorted and deformed.


This leaf distortion is actually caused by aphids - Spiny Witch Hazel Gall Aphids, to be exact - which feed on birch leaves starting in the spring and then eventually move on to Witch Hazel trees for the second part of its life cycle.  The infested birch leaves ultimately shrivel up and fall off the tree prematurely.


So it's a bad thing for your tree to be attacked by aphids every year, right?


Surprisingly, it can actually be a great thing!  The infestation of aphids is usually not heavy enough to harm the health of the tree.  It does, however, attract all sorts of beneficial predators to the garden.


The infected birch is like a magnet for ladybugs.  There are always a lot of them on my tree.  They eat the aphids and lay their eggs there.  The larvae that hatch eat even more aphids and eventually turn into even more ladybugs for the garden.

ladybug larvae eating aphids on birch leaf
Other interesting insects attracted by the aphids include this Tree Cricket nymph. Tree crickets and their nymphs love aphids and scale insects and can be beneficial to a garden (though they can occasionally become a pest for orchards as they also like fruit).

Tree Cricket nymph on birch leaf
Believe it or not, there are actually beneficial wasps to have in the garden, such as this little Mason Wasp.  They prey on many larval insects including aphids and are non-agressive and rarely sting.


 My favorite things that are attracted by the aphids, however, are the birds.

Baltimore Oriole
Most of the birds that I see eating aphids on the tree are ones that I see commonly at my nearby bird feeders.  The Baltimore Orioles, though, have never come to a feeder (despite my attempts).  I only see these beautiful birds up close when they come for the aphids.


It makes you almost want an aphid infestation, doesn't it?

17 comments:

  1. Great post, Indie. There is such a delicate balance in nature that we humans can disrupt for selfish and uninformed reasons. I've seen cricket nymphs but didn't know what they were.....I love learning this stuff!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed! How true that nature has a balance that we so often disrupt. It's nice to watch a small bit of this balance right in my own front yard.

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  2. It's wonderful how nature has an upside to something negative like aphids. I do wish she had something so positive to deal with Japanese beetles as well:)

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    1. Ha, I wish that too! It's Japanese beetle hunting season in my garden as well.

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  3. I'm so glad to see birds on your blog again. You took such wonderful bird photos at the Red House.

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    1. Thank you! I do still take a lot of photos of birds, but it's been awhile since I've done a post on them :)

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  4. Excellent post. Makes an essential point: without some bad bugs, there would be hardly any good bugs. Not to mention songbirds! I didn't know Orioles ate aphids.

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    1. Me, neither! I guess I knew that songbirds often eat insects, especially the young, but I rarely see it in action!

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  5. Hello Indie!
    Fantastic and informative post.
    For the first time I see such a beautiful bird.
    Oh, Indie your photos are perfect.
    Greetings from Poland.
    Lucja

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    1. Thank you, Lucja! I hope you are enjoying the warmer summer weather there after such a long winter you have!

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  6. I love your outlook, and great observation on these little guys!
    Yesterday I was thinking about how useless all the unblemished red maple leaves were and how I would much prefer cricket and katydid holes. I just like having the variety. Bug-free is boring ;)

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    1. I love hearing all the sounds in the garden, too. Lots of humming and chirping here!

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  7. Brilliant post.

    I thought I was the only one who got excited when the aphids (bright orange ones!) show up on the milkweed ;)

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    1. It's sometimes hard to wait for those predators with those bright orange aphids, though, even though I know it will bring in all the ladybugs and lacewings. I'm kind of glad that the river birch aphids are a more subtle color!

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  8. Good for you--looking on the bright side! It is fascinating how nature somehow finds a way to achieve balance. I think the same thing (or similar) is happening in my garden right now, and it's nifty to watch. :)

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    1. There is such a great balance in nature. It's usually us humans that throw it off! I love to see that balance in work in the garden, though!

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