writer, warrior, whack-a-doodle

War on Aphids

War on Aphids

May 3, 2017
Posted in: Nature | Reading Time: 6 minutes

If you're wondering where I've been, I've been fighting the War on Aphids in my garden.

One day, early this spring, I noticed a ball of "spit" on one of my Guara plants. So I looked it up on the Internet and found out they are spittle bugs. I took some photos of these guys above, which I thought were spittlebugs. But wait, they are not.

Spittle bug nymphs (Cercopidae family) are tiny 4-5 mm nymphs and are considered an aphid, but they are not as destructive to plants as typical aphids. (I found out later, the Internet LIES about this!) They feed on the xylem which transports water from the roots to the shoots, rather than the sap from the phleom which can be destructive to the plant. The spittle bug needs the water to produce his spittle; he feeds facing down so the sap is pumped through the body and expelled through his tush mixed with air producing a foam and then it falls over down to cover his body. The foam has many uses: it keeps the nymphs safe inside as they goes through multiple molting stages, it shields them from predators, insulates their body from temperature extremes and most of all, it prevents them from dehydrating.

Most gardeners will say they don't do much damage and will be gone by the end of spring, unless there's an infestation. These guys were on both my Guara and my parsley so I didn't make a big deal about it. At first I was fascinated and watched them daily. But then they showed up all over the garden, almost every single plant and ornamental grass, and it's ticking me off. It's weakening a lot of my plants and keeping them from blooming. A variety of web sites say the best way to get rid of them is hose them off and keep leaf trash picked up in the fall to prevent eggs from overwintering.  So I hosed them off with water and release some ladybugs. They may be cute, but their foam farts are a hideous addition to my flowering shrubs.

No blood on my hands when lady birds are the hit men!

So here I thought was another stage of spittle bug, but it turns out, as one of my Network of Global Bug Geek Scientists told me, this is an aphid! WTF? I have aphids too? This won't do! Thank dog and praise cheeses for the ladies!

These are what spittle bugs look like. The nymphs do look very similar to nymph aphids but they never leave their spittle until they are all grown up. Here they are, all nestled in their spittle. Awe. Aren't they so adorable? I don't care how cute they are, they have to go.

It also turns out Spittle bugs are showing up all over the Santa Cruz Mountains. On the other side of the property, which has a creek that separates it from our home area, the pasture of wild flowers and native plants are covered in spittle bugs! I wonder if this is a result of the unusual rain we had this year because I've never seen anything like this.

The adult spittle bug (not pictured here) is also known as a frog hopper. Though it's only less than a quarter inch long, it can jump more than two feet in the air.  That's almost 100x more than it's size and why it's known as one of nature's most powerful jumpers. Large internal muscles stretch and can remain stretched over twice its length for months and still rebound to original dimensions. Sounds like technology both the sports industry and plastic surgeons could use.

Doesn't telling someone you have aphids and spittlebugs feel like you're telling someone you have leprosy or some communicable disease? I cringe every time I admit my garden is infested with these little frackers.

Enjoy your short stay here Mr. Spittle Bug. If I were you, I'd start packing and hopping as quickly as your little legs can take you. The troops are on their way. When they get here, you can check out anytime you like, but you will never leave. Boowahaha!

I ordered a military strike. Troops on the ground, or in this case, on the plants. This is always a better option than an aerial assault. Hey Ladies: Go make a killing! And take no prisoners!

But first, how about a quickie before dinner? Shag first, eat later.  Nymphomaniacs!

The ladies made a nice dent but the little buggers have spread through out more of the garden so I called in more troops. Here's Ludwig the Ladybeetle, cleaning up his mouth and claws after what I assume was a gorge on spittles.

"Nom nom nom. Oh yeah, my belly is full. Next course please!"

I noticed some of my Feverfew and one Guara started looking worse for the wear so I got blood on my own hands and picked and squished those nymph babies. Mr. Wild Dingo is calling me the "masher" because I go around and just shoot them off with water, and mash them. There's still plenty for the ladies to devour. Boo-wa-ha-ha-ha!

"Hello and welcome to Santa Cruz Mountains Garden Restaurant! Table for one next to the all-you-can-eat aphid buffet?"
No vegans in this garden!

The War on Aphids and Spittles continued these past two weeks as they keep multiplying, so I ordered another round of troops (tripled in size of the others I ordered) and I made this special recipe to spray on them. It's organic of course. It contains 10 garlic cloves (or 1 bulb), 1 large onion, 2 jalepeno peppers (it should be 6-8 but I only had 2) and 6 teaspoons of cayenne pepper. Can you imagine drinking this concoction? I wonder if this would kill all the spirochetes in my body? It would no doubt kill me! I will mix this with 1.5 gallons of water and about 4-5 teaspoons of no-bleach dish soap or Safer Soap. Then I will go around and spray every spittle I see. There are thousands. I don't know how this happened. I've never seen an aphid in my garden before. I don't even have roses. I think the weird weather, extra rain and the massive wind storms we've had probably had a lot to do with it. Even if I manage to kill 50% of the spittles there will be plenty for the third troop, on call in my fridge, to eat after I spray. I'm serious people. Down with the aphids and spittles. They are infidels!

Meanwhile, Mr. Wild Dingo came home and I made him take a whiff of the ingredients in the jar above. He was seriously into it and wanted to use it for a dip on his tortilla chips! The man is insane. That much cayenne pepper alone would probably cause spontaneous combustion. That's a scientific fact that I totally made up. It's an alternative scientific fact.

Whatchya'll doing this weekend? I'm just gonna hang around, take in some sun, pig out on aphids and maybe enjoy a shag or two, or eighty-seven. It's what we do. Mad Skills!


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