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Call of the Wild

December 27, 2018

When I was young I used to watch wildlife shows, particularly those set in Africa. I can still see the cheetah hiding in the long grass with nothing but its eyes and ears visible. And then with a burst of speed it would leap out and bring down some hapless eland.

The picture left depicts the same scene, but in the insect world. The labybird beetle, in this case a Transverse Ladybird (Coccinella transversalis) is eyeing off lunch (and probably dinner as well) in the form of aphids.

Aphids (pictured right) like cicadas and gumtree hoppers are sap-sucking insects. Many species feed on one type of plant only. Aphids are detrimental to plants in a number of ways – they suck the sap, they can transfer diseases between plants and they also produce a honeydew on which mold species grows.

For a number of reasons aphid numbers can increase rapidly. Sexual reproduction is not necessary for propagation. Females can produce live female nymphs in certain seasons thereby producing large numbers of aphids quickly. In other seasons the females mate with males to produce eggs and thus either male or female offspring. In addition, like gumtree hoppers some ants ‘farm’ the aphids offering them protection from predators in exchange for the energy-rich honeydew (pictured below left).

Luckily there are a number of natural predators to control aphid numbers. Adult ladybirds consume hundreds of aphids a week. Both ladybird and hoverfly larvae are voracious predators of aphids.

Unlike the cheetah you won’t see the ladybird pictured above hurtling towards its prey at 70+mph (even though it has two more legs). It will be more a casual stroll and then CHOMP.

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