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"It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important" (Sherlock Holmes)

 

 

  <May 2015

Foreword by Alan Outen 

Bedfordshire Natural History Society has a long tradition of recording many groups of organisms, with many well known and eminent naturalists having been involved. Recognising that some groups receive little attention, in 2010 the Bedfordshire Invertebrate Group,  launched the Neglected Insects initiative.

One such group is the aphids. Contrary to popular supposition, very few are significant as pests! From just a handful of aphid records pre-2010 we now have over 100 species recorded, including several little-known species.

I hope you will find this page as fascinating and as useful as I do. It has really encouraged me to get out and search for some of these! I find it much easier targetting specific host plants for distinctive things than finding things that do all look very similar on a range of plants that do indeed then all turn out to be Aphis fabae!


You may be surprised to learn that, far from being common, many aphid species are rare or extremely rare. Yet, of the 59 insect species listed by wikipedia  as endangered and threatened in the British Isles, none was an aphid - but 36 were butterflies.

Conservation resources being limited, they should be used to the best effect. So, before we can consider what value rare aphids may have, we must consider what makes an aphid rare - and whether, simply by being uncommon, all are of equal value.

NBN Gateway maps

Deciding what is 'rare' is not quite as simple as you might imagine.

For example Lorn Natural History Group  described the Giant Willow Aphid (Tuberolachnus salignus ) as "Normally a rare beast, with only four dots on the NBN  map of Britain".

Closer inspection reveals Tuberolachnus salignus has rather more than four 1km-gridsquares on its NBN map,  but judging from the submissions to iSpot, Tuberolachnus salignus is one of the most commonly seen aphids  in Britain.

Indeed, according to the NBN maps of Britain (shown below), Macrosiphum rosae  (the ubiquitous rose aphid, so detested by gardeners) is far rarer - having been recorded in just four 1km-gridsquares between 1600 and May 2015. Aphis fabae arguably the most common ubiquitous abundant polyphagous  aphid pest in UK, was recorded in more locations - but few people would accept these maps bear much resemblance to reality!

     

(c) Crown copyright and database rights 2011 Ordnance Survey [100017955]

Comparing the NBN map for all species of aphids combined recorded since the year 1600, with their records of Garrulus glandarius (the Jay - a retiring persecuted seldom-seen but widespread bird) the problem becomes explicit:

  1. Aphids are ludicrously under-recorded.
  2. NBN maps provide neither a worthwhile index of aphid rarity - nor their UK distribution.

 

Suction-trap monitoring records

Although spatial records are sparse there are some long-term but local data. Scientists at Rothamstead Research Station have used suction traps  in selected locations to routinely monitor flying aphids for some years. Unfortunately, even were their raw data publicly available, there are two crucial shortcomings:

  1. Their records exclude species which are not available to the sampling device (either because they produce few or no winged-forms, or only indulge in a few low down local flights ), and any species which cannot be separated by conventional identification methods (this applies to many Aphis Dysaphis Pemphigus  and Uroleucon  species).
  2. Simply because a winged aphid is caught, we cannot be sure it occurs on host plants in Britain.

This second point merits some explanation:

  • Of perhaps 4400 aphid species worldwide between 600 and 700 species have been recorded in Britain, either because they have been found on host plants or caught in suction traps. Including the latter group as 'British aphids' without records on host plants is controversial because various studies indicate that aphids are transported considerable distances by wind. Presumably Britain has received such arrivals for millennia, yet the species composition of American and European aphids remains relatively distinct. In America, some species are commonly described as 'migratory' aphids. These tend to be those species that are now distributed worldwide such as Macrosiphum avenae Rhopalosiphum maidis and Rhopalosiphum padi These species are known to be wind-transported for long distances (Parry, 2013 ). However, unlike migratory birds, no aphid returns from a country in which it does not breed.

  • The situation with Schizaphis graminum is interesting. Schizaphis graminum have definitely arrived in UK - two alatae trapped in suction towers had identical mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence to the sorghum-adapted form in the USA. Yet, although Schizaphis graminum is of Palaearctic origin and now widely distributed, there are no records from northern European field crops (Blackman, AWP ). "Records from grasses in western Europe are now thought to apply to other closely-related species or subspecies, all of which are very difficult to tell apart."

  • Hence, whilst Schizaphis graminum appears on the Rothamstead list of "British aphids", this major grain-pest is not on the FERA  19/5/2015 Risk Register.

    Schizaphis graminum 

    Preferred hosts  Grasses & cereals (abundant).

    Adults are small elongate-oval & green with a darker-green stripe down their spine.

    Not ant attended.

    If present, very rare in UK. Originally Palaearctic, now widely distributed.

    Shown right: Wingless adults on oat leaf.

    Image source: Kent Loeffler, USDA 

  • Why Schizaphis graminum has failed to establish itself is another question. As Loxdale, et al., (1993)  noted, whilst successful long-distance movement undoubtedly occurs from time to time, aphids "probably die without feeding and reproducing". Or, then again, this aphid's niche may already be occupied.

  • In the last few hundred years most, if not all, aphid species new to Britain seem to have been carried on their host by man (albeit unintentionally), rather than through migration.

 

Other measures of rarity

Allowing for those problems, you might assume limited or local surveys of aphid species abundance must be available...

In practice, whilst some monitoring has been performed, we have been unable to find any systematic quantitative survey. Surveys such as Ed Baker's  and ours at Dundreggan  tend to list the species present, or to locate species of especial interest, rather than quantify their relative abundance. There are excellent practical reasons for this: sampling and identifying aphids is labour intensive and often impossible (for example, no keys exist for aphid nymphs). Moreover the two obvious measures of abundance, number of individuals, or number of colonies, are horribly problematic to quantify.

As a result, the best available data are qualitative: Estimates of abundance (and distribution) from publications such as Blackman (2010)  and Stroyan (1977),  or from field-researchers such as ourselves.

Accepting that records on aphid abundance are problematic, it might help if we considered a simple measure of rarity for a rather better-studied group.

Below is a 'rank abundance diagram' of 187 bird species observed in 2544 roadside bird counts Within approximately 1 km of the Great Lakes shoreline during 2002 & 2003 (Howe, et al., 2006 ). Number of individuals is the total number of birds reported in all point counts combined. Representative species are shown with arrows pointing toward the corresponding bar.

The shape of this plot is fairly typical. Accepting the Bald eagle is rather rare, roughly 38% of those bird species were seen more rarely.

To get some idea of how this compares to aphids, at the time of writing our InfluentialPoints website describes about 240 species of aphids, of which we have classed just under 70 (30%) as common British species. On this page we select just 29 (12%) of them as examples of "rare" species. However, because we try to use our own photographs (and our contributors') when describing aphids, our 230 species pages exclude most of the rarest species (plus a few 'common' species): Implying that around half of British aphids are rare - or very rare.

That said, since a Bald eagle is more easily noticed than an Eastern phoebe, and the same is true for aphids, these estimates of abundance are biased accordingly.

There are several reasons why a species is seldom observed:

  1. They may be secretive, camouflaged, or otherwise fail to arouse human interest.
    • Thus whilst aphids as a whole tend to get ignored, unless they are pests, many species are under-reported, including some common ones.
  2. Some species are highly localized, sometimes because of their host plant, but not always so.
  3. Some species are genuinely uncommon, or very uncommon, or only very rarely achieve appreciable numbers.
  4. In addition, regarding suction tower results, some species produce few winged forms, or they may be weak fliers, or it may be impossible to identify their winged forms.

Which aphid species merit conservation?

The popular answer is "none of them. Ever."

Let us attempt a more objective view.  

  • Why some aphids species are rare is often very obvious - their host plant is very rare, or it is highly localized.

Hostplant is rare or highly local: some examples

Aphis lantanae 

Preferred host  Viburnum lantana (wayfaring tree) which is local and restricted to chalkland. Aphids live in curled leaves, on young stems or under senescing leaves.

Adults are dark greenish-brown with dark bands across abdomen.

Ant attended.

Very little recorded according to Stroyan (1984).  May be genuinely rare, and local. We have found it twice.

Shown right: Winged & wingless adults & nymphs. Note their short, bluntly tapering 'tails'.

Aphis tripolii 

Preferred host  Tripolium pannonicum (sea aster) which is rare & very local. Aphids live on leaves & flowers.

Wingless adults are apple-green with a dusky head and no wax powdering, but nymphs have a faint wax powdered spots.

Ant attended.

Genuinely rare, it is local and habit-endangered. We have found it once.

Shown right: Colony with nymphs.

Cinara smolandiae 

Preferred host  Juniperus communis (Juniper) which is rare and local. Aphids usually live in bark crevices or rust cankers of very old bushes, but on younger stems in Scotland.

Wingless adults are dusky brownish-grey with dull-bronze highlights, and shiny black conical siphunculi.

Ant attended.

Baker & Blackman (2014)  found it at Dundreggan in Scotland. Should be classified as endangered. We could not find it at the same site.

Shown right: Light-coloured Scottish specimens.

Image copyright Alan Watson Featherstone/ Trees for Life  all rights reserved

Dysaphis aucupariae 

Winter host is Sorbus torminalis (wild service tree) which is uncommon & local. Summer hosts are Plantago (plantain) species which are very common. On Sorbus live in a pseudogall on the leaves. On Plantago live under leaves between the veins.

Wingless adults on their winter host are greyish-green or pinkish-yellow, with brownish to reddish areas at siphuncular bases. Old ones are heavily wax powdered. Winged adults from their winter host have ochreous to greenish-yellow abdomen with a black patch & cross bands, those from their winter host are reddish-ochreous with a blackish pattern.

Often ant attended.

Blackman (2010)  describes it as rare with only 3 records in England & 1 in Wales. We have not found it.

Shown right: Colony in gall on winter host.

Rhopalosiphoninus calthae 

Preferred hosts  Caltha palustris (marsh marigold) which is widespread but not common. Aphids found under leaves, especially in shade.

Wingless adults are shining brownish-black, with black strongly-swollen siphunculi. Immatures are waxed anteriorly.

Not ant attended.

A rare & very localised aphid which we have found just once.

Shown right: Wingless adult and immatures on Marsh marigold.

Staticobium staticis 

Preferred hosts  Statice limonium (sea lavender) which is very local & its habitat is under threat. Aphids live on leaf blade and stem under flowers.

Wingless adults are dirty-green or dirty-red with dark tips to the siphunculi. Winged females are green or red.

Not ant attended.

A very local aphid, but not uncommon where it occurs. We have found it twice.

Shown right: Wingless adult and nymphs.

 

  • In addition,  some aphid species are surprisingly particular about their niche (such as dying branches) or they may require another species 'in the mix' - such as a particular species of ant to attend them.

 

Hostplant common, but particular niche: some examples

Callipterinella calliptera 

Preferred host  Betula species (Birch) which are very common. But niche is on young shoots & under leaves, often inside leaves sewn up by lepidopterous larvae.

Adults are yellowish-green to bluish-green, usually with transverse dark bands.

Ant attended.

The species is local but widely distributed according to Stroyan (1977).  In our experience it is rare.

Shown right: Colony, mostly nymphs. Note their dark bands appear as spots.

Callipterinella tuberculata 

Preferred host  Betula pendula (silver birch ) which is very common. But aphids live on young leaves mainly when other aphid species are present.

Wingless adults are yellowish with a brown head, and reddish-brown bands over their abdomen. Winged adults have brown spots but no bands.

Ant attended.

Local and not very common according to Stroyan (1977).  Our experience too.

Shown right: Colony on silver birch.

Cinara kochiana 

Preferred host  Larix (Larch species) which are common. But aphid lives on lower trunk bark crevices, old branch base, or exposed roots especially on damaged trees.

Wingless adults are greyish-brown to lead-grey or greyish-green, and slightly wax powdered - with small black spots and often a spinal stripe.

Ant attended.

Rare according to Carter & Maslen (1982).  We agree, we have found it once.

Shown right: Wood-ant attended colony. Notice the small black conical siphunculi, and uniformly brown/black hind tibiae.

Clethrobius comes 

Preferred hosts  Betula (birch) species & Alnus (alder) which are very common. But aphids live mainly on damaged or dying trees.

Mature winged viviparae are elongated and dark-brown.

Sometimes ant attended.

Stroyan (1977)  found it rare but widely distributed. We've found the same.

Shown right: Noticeably hairy alatiform nymph & newly moulted winged adult.

Pterocallis maculata 

Preferred hosts  Alnus (Alder) species which are very common.

Mature winged viviparae are yellowish-green or green, with dark green bands.

Nearly always ant attended.

Stroyan (1977)  found it rare, and only in Suffolk. We've found it once.

Shown right: Winged adults, nymphs and alatiform nymphs along vein on leaf underside.

Image copyright Alan Outen,  all rights reserved.

Stomaphis quercus

Preferred hosts  Mainly Quercus (oak) & Betula (Birch) which are very common. But aphids restricted to near trunk base of very old trees near water.

Adults are very large & long, shining dark-brown, with a very long rostrum.

Must be attended by Lasius fuliginosus (Jet black ant).

Extremely rare in UK. May be locally extinct: was only known from 5 sites. Stronghold was Breckland, East Anglia (now largely under agriculture). But throughout Europe & west Siberia.

Shown right: Ant attended wingless adult.

Image copyright Bernhard Seifert,  all rights reserved.

 

  • That said,  there are a number of aphids which have abundant and widespread host-plants - yet seem to be genuinely very rare. This may be because they are on the edge of their distribution for climatic reasons:

 

May be on the edge of its range: some examples

Dysaphis bonomii 

Preferred host  Pastinaca sativa (wild parsnip) which is very common. Aphids are found low down on concealed parts of plant.

Wingless adults are pale to dull greyish-green & wax-powdered, with stripes across the abdomen - clearly marked in winged adults.

Ant attended.

Occurs in Sweden, Germany, Austria & Italy. Blackman (2010)  notes it is restricted to southern England. We have found it once at Rye Harbour.

Shown right: nymphs.

Glyphina pseudoschrankiana 

Preferred host  Betula pubescens (downy birch) which is very common. Aphids feed on young shoots.

Wingless adult viviparae are black with variable white markings, usually two spots on each side and a slight spinal stripe. Immatures are reddish-brown.

Usually attended by ants.

We found it once. A northern European species which may be at the edge of its range.

Shown right: Colony on Downy birch.

Uroleucon pilosellae 

Preferred host  Hieracium pilosella (mouse ear hawkweed) which is common. Aphids are found on flower stems.

Wingless adults are dark reddish grey-brown with antesiphuncular sclerites and black siphunculi, a yellow 'tail', and long antennae.

Not ant attended.

Very rare at edge of its distribution.Blackman (2010)  notes that past records are based on three trapped alates. It has only been found on its host plant once in UK, by us, at Dundreggan in Scotland.

Shown right: Wingless adult & nymphs.

 

  • Or  they may be rare for no obvious reason - this group includes a lot of uncommon, but probably not endangered, species.

Never common although host plant is: some examples

Aphis ballotae 

Preferred hosts  Ballota (horehound) species which are very common. Aphids found on stems & leaves.

Wingless adults are dark grey-blue to mottled green. Hard to distinguish from other species of the Aphis frangulae  complex.

Probably not ant attended.

Very few records in UK according to Stroyan (1984).  We found it once. But it is hard to separate from other species.

Shown right: Adults and nymphs. Note the black siphunculi.

Aphis callunae 

Preferred host  Calluna vulgaris (heather) which is common. Aphids reputedly found on elderly plants,

Adults are brown or pink (due to wax powdering). Immatures pink or possibly greenish.

Loosely ant attended.

Few records in UK according to Stroyan (1984).  We have found it several times. It is cryptic, but may be genuinely rare.

Shown right: Ant attended colony of adults & nymphs. Note their very short siphunculi.

Aphis crepidis 

Preferred hosts  Crepis biennis & Crepis capillaris (hawksbeard) which are very common. Aphids at base of plant.

Wingless adults are dark bluish-green to yellow-green, and not wax powdered.

May be sheltered by ants.

Very little known in UK according to Stroyan (1984).  We have found it at one site. May be genuinely rare.

Shown right: Colony on Crepis capillaris.

Aphis hypochoeridis 

Preferred host  Hypochaeris radicata (cat's ear) which is very common. Aphids concealed from view on root collar, lower stem & radical leaf underside.

Wingless adults are bright yellow to pale greenish yellow. Winged adults have a dark head and thorax.

Usually tented over by Myrmica or Lasius ants.

Not much recorded according to Stroyan (1984).  But being a root aphid, it is probably under-recorded and may be quite common. We have found it several times.

Shown right: Colony on Cat's ear root collar. Note their dark siphunculi.

Chaitophorus salicti 

Preferred host  Salix caprea, Salix cinerea, Salix aurita (sallows) which are very common. Aphids along veins on underside of leaves.

Wingless adults are black with a pale spinal stripe in spring, but in summer are light yellowish-green with reddish-brown or greyish-black dorsal markings. Winged adults are dark with dark cross-bands.

Usually ant-attended.

Rare according to Stroyan (1977)  - who thinks the identification may be confused. We find it rare, but don't think its identification is the problem.

Shown right: A colony in August.

Chaitophorus salijaponicus niger 

Preferred host  Narrow-leaved Salix species (willows) which are common. Aphids live in small colonies on leaves.

Wingless adults are usually blackish-brown. Winged adults are dark, with broad abdominal cross-bands. the antennae, legs, cauda and base of their siphunculi are mainly pale. Immatures are wine red.

Not usually ant attended.

Local & uncommon according to Stroyan (1977).  We concur.

Shown right: A characteristically small colony of wine-red nymphs. Note the yellowish suffusion around their siphunculi.

Drepanosiphum acerinum 

Preferred host Acer pseudoplatanus (sycamore) which is very common. Mainly found on the lower leaves of saplings in shade.

All viviparous adults are winged, pale whitish-green to chrome-yellow, & a dark thorax. Often 1 or 2 short brown bars across the abdomen.

Not ant attended.

Stroyan (1977)  found it local. We agree.

Shown right: Winged adult. Note the dark siphunculi, & spot at each base.

Drepanosiphum aceris 

Preferred host Acer campestre (field maple) which is common. Aphids are under leaves near ground.

All viviparous adults are winged, yellowish or whitish-green, & a dark thorax. Often 1 or 2 narrow stripes across the abdomen & dark spot at the siphuncular base.

Not ant attended.

Stroyan (1977)  found it local. We've found it local & uncommon.

Shown right: Nymph, syrphid egg & winged adult: Note its dark wing-tips.

Dysaphis sorbi 

The winter host Sorbus aucuparia (rowan ), is very common in northern Britain, less so in the south. The summer hosts Campanula (bellflowers) is locally common. On rowan the aphids crumple the leaves creating leaf nests, later moving to the berry stems.

Wingless adults are reddish-brown to dark-green, with cylindrical slender pale-yellowish siphunculi. Winged adults from the winter host have an ochreous to reddish-yellow abdomen, with a dark patch & dark slender cylindrical siphunculi. Does not always move to summer host.

Ant attended.

Blackman (2010)  found it rather rare. We found it just twice.

Shown right: Colony on Rowan fruit-stalk.

Hamamelistes betulinus 

Preferred hosts  Mainly Betula pendula (silver birch) which is very common. Found under leaves.

Wingless adults are greenish or dark-brown to black and are covered in white wax. Winged adults have pigmented siphuncular pores.

Not ant attended.

Rare in UK. We have found it once.

Shown right: Colony on Silver birch.

Lachnus longirostris 

Preferred hosts  Quercus (oak) species which are common. Lives on twigs & branches.

Wingless adults are shining dark-reddish to blackish-brown, with small conical siphunculi, pale middle-tibiae, hairy abdomen and legs.

Nearly always ant attended.

Rare. We have found it once or twice. Very similar to Lachnus pallipes.

Shown right: Colony attended by Lasius fuliginosus (Jet black ant).

Lachnus pallipes 

Preferred host  Fagus sylvatica (beech) which is common. Aphid is found on older branches & stems, moving to the roots in summer.

Wingless adults are shining dark-reddish to blackish-brown, with relatively-pale siphuncular plates, and a densely hairy abdomen.

Nearly always ant attended.

Rare. But there are identification problems - it is very similar to Lachnus longirostris.

Shown right: Dense colony.

Monaphis antennata 

Preferred hosts  Betula (birch) species which are very common. Nymphs on leaf undersides, adults on leaf topsides.

Winged adults are green, with very long thick black antennae except at the base, very short flanged siphunculi, and an elongate dark pterostigma on their forewing.

Not ant attended.

Dixon & Thieme (2007)  found it extremely rare. It is solitary & cryptic and so may be underreported. We have found it several times.

Shown right: Winged adult.

Periphyllus obscurus 

Preferred host  Acer campestre (field maple) which is common. Found on young shoots, leaf petioles & under leaves.

Wingless adults are rather small and blackish-green, with dark very short siphunculi, and hind tibiae more-or-less pale throughout. Very young nymphs are green, older nymphs are brownish.

Nearly always ant attended.

Stroyan (1977)  found it very rare. We have found it uncommon encountering it 3 or 4 times.

Shown right: Colony in early August.

Pterocomma rufipes 

Preferred hosts Salix (willow) species. On twigs & young branches.

Wingless adult viviparae are variably grey or dull reddish-brown to dark-brown with powdery wax spots, yellowish slightly to markedly swollen siphunculi, and antennae half the body length. Winged adult viviparae have variably developed abdominal cross-bands.

Often visited by ants.

Stroyan (1984)  found it moderately rare, as have we.

Shown right: Wingless adult on Salix alba (White willow).

Pterocomma tremulae 

Preferred host  Populus tremula (aspen) which is common. Aphid lives on suckers & 2-year-old twigs.

Wingless adults are dark warm-brown or olive-brown & wax powdered, with slightly-swollen pale-yellowish siphunculi.

Nearly always ant attended.

Stroyan (1984)  found it rare. We have found it just once.

Shown right: Colony attended by Formica lugubris (hairy wood ant).

Rhopalosiphoninus ribesinus 

Preferred hosts  On Ribes species (currants) which are common. Aphids are found on old wood of lower shoots.

Wingless adults are dull reddish-brown to brownish-black with a rough hardened dorsum, long thin antennae, antennal tuburculae and dark strongly-swollen siphunculi.

Not ant attended.

Blackman (2010)  found it rare & localized. We have found it just once.

Shown right: Wingless adults and nymphs on Ribes rubrum (Redcurrant).

 

  • There are a few aphid species that are endemic to Britain, in other words they are seldom if ever found anywhere else. If they disappear, that is the end of them, for ever. But it is unlikely anyone will either know or care. The species at most risk may not be hugely rare, but are host-plant specific, highly localized, and occupy habitats under threat - such as saltmarsh or shingle vegetation.

Endemic to Britain: an example

Lipaphis cochleariarae

Preferred host  common but local: Cochlearia officinalis (common scurvygrass) flower heads, or rosettes of young plants growing within or just above the intertidal zone.

Dull olive-green with brown patches.

Not ant attended.

According to Blackman (2010)  not known outside Britain. Habitat local & threatened.

We have no image of this species.
 
  • Some aphids are rare because they have only recently arrived in Britain, and have yet to achieve a foothold. Conventional wisdom is that most such arrivals simply die out, which makes sense given we have but a small proportion of those species which have arrived on imported vegetables and plantstock. That said it is hard to be certain whether species only recorded once are examples of that, or are simple misidentifications. Why some species succeed where others fail may be anything but obvious, and is partly a matter of chance - too few may have arrived, the weather happened to be unsuitable, too few found good mates, their one host-plant was cut down, or predators happened to wipe out their only colony.

Recently arrived: some examples

Cinara confinis 

Preferred host Abies (fir) and Cedrus (cedar) species. Aphids on branches and twigs, rarely roots.

Wingless adults are dark brown or greenish-black, with rows of blackish and whitish spots.

Optionally dependent on ant attendance, may be strongly defended.

Sporadic in UK according to Carter & Maslen (1982)  who found on fir in widely distributed locations. We have found it in one site along with a parasitoid species new to Britain.

Shown right: Colony of wingless adults and mummies.

Cinara curvipes 

Preferred host  Abies (fir) and Cedrus (cedar) species some of which are common. Aphids are on trunk, branches and twigs, rarely roots.

Wingless adults are shiny or dull grey-black, sometimes with wax powdering on the thorax and along each side. Their siphuncular cones and abdomen tip are black.

Often ant-attended.

Rare invasive (first in UK in 1990s) but becoming rapidly more common. We have found it several times.

Shown right: Colony on fir. Note their long, curved, pale & dark hind-legs.

Essigella californica 

Preferred hosts  Pinus (pine) species. Aphids on 1-year-old needles.

Wingless adults are elongated, have very short antennae, grey-green thorax, pale lime-green abdomen with variably-faint brown spots.

Not ant attended.

As of 2015, a new species to UK, only known from 2 UK sites. We found the second on Pinus montezumae. No evidence of spread so far, but it is cryptic. According to a FERA PRA  likelihood of establishment is high. All Pinus species can act as hosts, and the UK climate is mostly suitable for establishment and spread.

Shown right: wingless adult on Montezuma pine needle.

Hoplocallis picta 

Preferred hosts  Quercus ilex (holm oak) which is uncommon but widespread. Aphids are on leaf undersides.

Winged adults are elongate & pale yellow-green. Their abdomen has dark spinal markings with pale centres. Immatures are broader and flatter, & have four longitudinal rows of brown pale-centred hairy spots.

Not ant attended.

A recent invasive species: only known from 2 sites, but uncommon everywhere in its range.

Shown right: Nymph & winged adult on Holm oak leaf underside.

Myzus hemerocallis 

Preferred hosts  Hemerocallis (day lily) and Agapanthus (lily of the Nile ) which is common in gardens. Lives on concealed parts of young leaves.

Wingless adults are pale yellowish-green or yellowish-white, and an orange-brown hue anteriorly and posteriorly - but lacks a black dorsal abdominal patch.

Loosely ant attended.

Invasive from USA, (as of 2015) 15 known occurrences, none outside of glasshouses. We have found it once.

Shown right: Colony with ant on Day lily.

Neotoxoptera formosana 

Preferred hosts  Allium (onion) species. Often found on leaves or bulbs in store.

Wingless adults are shining magenta-red to dark reddish-brown or almost black. Winged adults are very dark-red to black, with heavily but evenly black-bordered wing veins.

Not ant attended.

In October 1999 it was only found in one UK site (RHS Wisley in Surrey, England). Eradication failed. It is invasive & established but, as of 2015, very rare. We have found it once in a supermarket in Scotland.

Shown right: Colony on growing-tip of stored onion (Allium cepa).

Tinocallis takachihoensis 

Preferred host  localised: Ulmus (elm) species.

Winged adult viviparae are pale yellow-green with a shiny-black head & thorax, black wing markings and a black patch on its hind knees. Immatures pale knobbly, hairy, & yellow-green.

Not ant attended.

In 2009 found in 1 UK site (Berkshire). Regularly intercepted on imported Ulmus and Zelkova Bonsai plants. We have found it at one site in East Sussex.

Shown right: Winged adults & nymphs.

 

  • Many exotic pest species fall into the above category.  But, if their pest potential is recognised beforehand, their rarity partly depends upon control / extermination efforts. It also depends upon how popular their host plant happens to be. Food and garden fashions change, and some years turn out to be good for aphids but bad for aphid natural enemies. So what is a rare aphid one year may be very different thereafter. In 1932 one aphid (Myzus ornatus ) was a previously unknown rare endemic species found infesting violets in an English (Devon) nursery. It is now a worldwide pest.

Used to be rare and localized: some examples

Cinara acutirostris 

Preferred host  Pinus nigra (Corsican Pine) and Pinus pinea (Stone Pine ). Aphids on twigs and stems.

Wingless adults are dark-brown to pale-bronze, with dark markings and wax powdering. Their siphunculi are large, black & conical.

Always ant attended.

Rare in UK according to Carter & Maslen (1982)  who only found it in Cambridge. We now find it common on Pinus nigra in Sussex & Surrey.

Shown right: Colony. Note their winged adults have dark legs, light near the body.

Cinara brauni 

Preferred host Pinus nigra (Corsican pine ) which is very common. Aphids on 1-year-old twigs.

Wingless adults are golden brown with wax powdering, and a variably-large shiny dark abdominal patch.

Loosely ant attended.

According to Carter & Maslen (1982).  only recorded in Britain once, & rare elsewhere. We now find it common and widespread on Pinus nigra.

Shown right: Colony with alatiform nymphs.

Cinara piceicola 

Preferred host  Picea spp (spruce) which are common. Aphids are found on the bark of woody shoots, and between needle-bases in spring.

Wingless adult viviparae have a dark brown head & thorax. Their abdomen is pale olive-buff with a thin white spinal stripe & 2 faint greyish-green stripes.

Nearly always ant attended.

Carter & Maslen (1982)  found it rare. We have found it fairly common.

Shown right: Wood-ant attended colony. Note the small slightly dark siphuncular cones.

Cinara pini 

Preferred host  Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine ) is very common. Aphids live under old foliated twigs & branches and on young shoots in spring.

Wingless adults are grey or greyish-green with black markings, slightly bronzy or wax powdered, with black conical siphunculi. Winged adults are often more strongly marked & powdered.

Always ant-attended, avidly.

Carter & Maslen (1982)  found it rather uncommon. We find it rather common wherever there is pine.

Shown right: Wingless adults & nymphs.

Cinara pruinosa 

Preferred host  Picea (spruce) species which are common. Aphids are on the woody twigs in spring, and the trunk base & roots later in the year.

Wingless adults are hairy, dark green or brown sometimes slightly bronzy, often wax-powdered along their sides, with large conical siphunculi. Immatures may be wax powdered.

Usually attended by ants.

Carter & Maslen (1982)  found it rare in UK. We have found it widespread & fairly common.

Shown right: Ant attended colony (note ant leg).

Eriosoma lanigerum 

No known primary host. Secondary host is Malus (apple) which is very common. Lives on roots, trunk or branches.

Wingless adults are purple, red or brown and have thick white 'wool'. Winged females are reddish brown with much less wax.

Not ant attended.

In 1878 it was only found in 1 site in Europe: a nursery on the outskirts of London. It originated in North America. Now a widespread pest.

Shown right: Wax-covered colony.

Macrosiphum albifrons 

Preferred hosts  Lupinus (lupin) which is a frequent garden plant. Aphids live on the leaves, stems & flower spikes.

Wingless adults are large pale-bluish grey-green with white wax powdering.

Not ant attended.

In autumn 1981 this was known from 1 UK site. This North American species has been spreading over Britain ever since.

Shown right: Colony. Note immatures have all-dark siphunculi.

Macrosiphum ptericolens 

Preferred hosts  Pteridium (bracken) which is very common. Aphids live on the leaves.

Wingless adults are pale yellowish-green to a darker shiny-green, with long antennae and long strongly-tapering siphunculi.

Not ant attended.

An invasive from North America. Solitary and cryptic, but seems to have stayed fairly rare.

Shown right: Winged adult.

Myzus ornatus 

No known primary host. Extremely polyphagous,  Feeding on members of Violaceae (violets) and many other families, often in mixed-species colonies.

Small. Wingless adults are pale yellow or green, with conspicuous dark paired abdominal bars.

Not ant-attended.

In 1932 it's worldwide distribution was restricted to 1 UK site: in other words this species was endemic and highly local. As of 2015 this serious pest is extremely common & its distribution is cosmopolitan.

Shown right: Wingless adult & nymphs.

 

So why are aphids of conservation interest?

There are (at least) four important reasons why aphids really ought to be of conservation interest:

  1. Many aphid species provide the main source of nutrition - honeydew - for ants. This is best documented for wood ants - which are recognised as a keystone species in the forest ecosystem.

  2. Many more aphid species support a wide variety of insect and bird species, either as hosts of parasitoids, or as prey for predators. They are known to be the main source of food for young birds such as blue tits. Also many birds that normally eat seeds use aphids and caterpillars to feed growing young as these are high in protein, and often among the most readily available food sources early in the year.

  3. Some species, no-one knows how many, may benefit their host plants by providing sugars (via their honeydew) to crucial root mycorrhizae.

  4. The presence of uncommon species is a useful indicator of an ecosystem's biodiversity. Not all 'ancient' woodlands are the same - many only have common plants and insects - genuinely ancient woodlands are now extremely rare and fragmented!

Accepting that rarity per-se is a poor indicator of conservation value, setting up reserves to protect any rare species seems destined to fail if we ignore the ecosystem of which that species is a component. Or, to put it another way, only protecting the very rare is 'penny wise, pound foolish'.

Admittedly it is hard to get support for conserving what most people regarded as pests. Nevertheless, if we only conserve "cuddly, cute, or magnificent" species, whilst the rest become extinct, there won't be an ecosystem to support those cuddly species - or us.

Acknowledgements

Our especial thanks to Kent Loeffler (USDA),  Alan Watson Featherstone (Trees for Life)  and Bernhard Seifert (Senckenberg),  whose images we have reproduced above.

We also thank Alan Outen (founder of the Bedfordshire Invertebrate Group,  and instigator of the Neglected Insects in Beds initiative) for his enthusiasm and support, without which this page might not exist.

We have mostly made identifications from high resolution photos of living specimens, along with host plant identity. Microscopic examination of preserved specimens was used for confirmation if necessary. We have used the keys and species accounts of Blackman & Eastop (1994)  and Blackman & Eastop (2006)  supplemented with Stroyan (1977),  Stroyan (1984),  Heie (1980-1995),  and Dixon & Thieme (2007).  We fully acknowledge these authors as the source for the (summarized) taxonomic information we have presented. Any errors in identification or information are ours alone, and we would be very grateful for any corrections. For assistance on the terms used for aphid morphology we suggest the figure  provided by Blackman & Eastop (2006).

Useful weblinks 

References

  • Baker, E.A. (2012). Aphids and their parasitoids at the Dundreggan estate. Trees for Life Dundreggan estate biodiversity survey report. June 2012.

  • Baker, E.A. & Blackman, R.L. (2014). Cinara (Cupressobium) smolandiae (Aphidoidea: Aphididae), a juniper-feeding aphid new to Britain. British Journal of Entomology and Natural History 27(1). Abstract 

  • Blackman, R.L. (2010). Aphids - Aphidinae (Macrosiphini). Handbooks for the identification of British insects 2(7). Royal Entomological Society, London.

  • Dransfield, R.D. & Brightwell, R. (2013). Aphids and their natural enemies and mutualists at Dundreggan, Scotland. Trees for Life Dundreggan estate biodiversity survey report. 105 pp. Full text 

  • Carter, C.R. & Maslen, N.R. (1982). Conifer Lachnids. Forestry Commission Bulletin No. 58, 75pp.

  • Dixon, A.F.G. & Thieme, T. (2007). Aphids on deciduous trees. Naturalist's Handbooks 29. Richmond

  • Howe, R.W., Hanowski, J.M., N., Gerald J., Smith, C. (2006) Final Report: Development and Assessment of Environmental Indicators Based on Birds and Amphibians in the Great Lakes Basin United States Environmental Protection Agency Full text 

  • Loxdale, et al. (1993) Biol. Revs. 68 291-311. Abstract 

  • Parry, H.R. (2013) Cereal aphid movement: general principles and simulation modelling. Movement Ecology 1 14. doi:10.1186/2051-3933-1-14  Full text 

  • Stroyan, H.L.G. (1977). Homoptera: Aphidoidea (Part) - Chaitophoridae and Callaphidae. Handbooks for the identification of British insects 2(4a). Royal Entomological Society, London. Full text 

  • Stroyan, H.L.G. (1984). Aphids - Pterocommatinae and Aphidinae (Aphidini). Handbooks for the identification of British insects 2(6). Royal Entomological Society, London.