Saturday, 21 April 2012

Love in the Time of Aphids

There's this gorgeous little story in the Origin of Species, in which my old pal Chas. D. describes his attempts to tickle an aphid with a hair in order to simulate the way ants stimulate aphids with their feelers. I can't remember whether or not he succeeds in coaxing the aphid to secrete honeydew (though my guess is that he doesn't), because my entire recollection of this story is bound up in the image of my all-time favourite bearded Victorian (sorry Engels) hunched over his desk tickling a wee little arthropod. (It's almost as beguiling an image as the one in which Charles and his son Francis sit up for 36 hours to record the movement of a climbing plant (can I have my pocket money yet, Dad?). Or the one of Charles slipping botanical condoms over a selection of local weeds to stop any illicit acts of cross-fertilisation from spoiling his study of vegetal inbreeding. Cutesy-wutesy Darwin, right?)

So, aphids. Ticklish ant-cows! What's not to love? Their rampaging vegetarianism, for one thing. These chaps eat whole lettuces for elevenses. If you yourself had an eye on a whole lettuce for elevenses, you might be a tad peeved.

I know this about you because I myself have been peeved. Herds of ravenous aphids marauding up and down the cucurbits, the tamarillo, the roses, the silvanberry, the lime, the Japanese quince have precipitated many a peeve. Peevishness 'r' us, in fact. But in my customary fashion (too busy and/or lazy) and according to my horticultural family crest (Natura Indolentibus Favet), I have abandoned the cucurbits, tamarillo, roses, etc, to their hideous fate and left these aphids to their 300 square metre salad bar.

And you know what? This has led to the most wonderful thing EVERRRRR: ladybirds, who eat aphids like I eat ... whatever comes my way ... are romancing their spots off. All over the garden. Fornicating coccinellidae. I couldn't be happier.
Ladybirds having sex, ideally positioned for their post-coital snack.


TimT said...


Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

(Ho ho.)

And after they've eaten all our aphids: lardybirds.

The Elephant's Child said...

You can buy ladybirds now to use as pest control. I haven't yet, but I do like the idea of ladybirds munching away soooo much better than sprays and their ilk.

genevieve said...

We had lacewings I think eating our aphids. WHile I appreciated their efforts, I do prefer ladybugs. Your photos are ace.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

I love that people sell ladybirds for pest control, Elephant's Child, particularly because I can imagine the conversations at parties.

"So, what do you do?"
"Oh, I breed ladybirds."

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Thanks, Genevieve. And GO lacewings! We're doing everything right to attract them (umbelliferous flowers in the form of parsley and yarrow), but I haven't seen any yet. It's been the year of the insect round our way: fruit fly (in Melbourne!), green vegetable bugs, the odd European wasp, a couple of visibly different kinds of bees, three sorts of ladybirds (the ones photographed above, the yellow-spotted mildew-eating ones, and the dreaded multi-spotted vegetarian ones), some kind of prolifically breeding red beetle which I'm yet to identify and which our chooks won't eat, cabbage butterflies, etc, etc. I won't use sprays either, for obvious reasons.

Ampersand Duck said...

So nice to see you posting again! How are the bee plans?

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Thanks, Duck. You're a nicey.

Leaving the bees until I've finished a big work thing that's currently consuming all weekends, and then I have to hang out with some apiarists for a while and practise getting stung, etc. It'll be at least six months, probably nine, before I can get serious about bees. Have been enjoying reading about them, though. Social insects are so interesting, and so is the way people write about them.

TimT said...

Happy birthday, aphidicious Baron von Harlot!

Caz said...

There was no "adult content" warning on this post.

As one of the perpetually-alarmed, I was shocked to see homemade pornography (although I understand it's everywhere).

And a belated happy birthday!

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Ta for the happy birthday! And apologies for exposing you to those salacious images. You can imagine how shocked I was when I saw those ladybirds in the flesh.

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