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Aphis callunae

Heather aphid

On this page: Identification & Distribution  Biology & Ecology 

Identification & Distribution:

Aphis callunae is a small rather stout dark brown aphid which appears pinkish because of the powdering of wax. Blackman describes immature Aphis callunae as 'greenish' in life, but we have found them to be reddish brown (see below). The dorsal cuticle is strongly reticulate. The abdominal tergites are usually only banded on tergites 7-8. The siphunculi are very short, only 0.64-0.79 times the length of the cauda. The body length of Aphis callunae apterae is about 1.7 times the body width (in live specimens), with an absolute body length of 1.0-1.4 mm.

The images below show a winged, and a wingless, Aphis callunae in alcohol.

The heather aphid does not host alternate. Sexual forms occur in autumn. Aphis callunae feeds on heather (Calluna vulgaris) and is reported to live on old straggling plants typical of woodland clearings and margins. Aphis callunae is found over much of western, northern & central Europe, and has also been recorded from Canada.

 

Biology & Ecology:

Despite the superabundance of its foodplant - heather- in many areas, Aphis callunae is not usually a common species. Stroyan (1984)  suggests that this aphid is overlooked and under-recorded, partly because of its very cryptic appearance and partly because it shows thanatosis (feigning death) when beaten from vegetation. This is certainly the case, but ant-attended colonies are very easy to find, so we suspect the aphid is genuinely rather uncommon. In the northern parts of its range its life cycle is apparently reduced to three generations (Stekoshchikov & Buga, 2009 ).

The heather aphid is tended by a number of different ant species including Myrmica sp. (see first picture below) and Formica rufa (see second picture below).

 

Brian et al. (1965)  note that Lasius niger in British heathland obtains a great deal of food in exudates from various aphid sources including Aphis callunae on Calluna vulgaris. We have found that southern wood ants abandon colonies of heather aphids very quickly if disturbed. In other words no serious attempts are made to defend the aphids, unlike for example when wood ants are attending Symydobius oblongus.  Indeed, the ant in theimage above made no attempt to remove the syrphid larva from the aphid colony, despite its obvious predations on the colony.

Apart from syrphid larvae, we have also observed adult eyed-ladybirds (Anatis ocellata) close to colonies. This is a species normally associated with pine trees, which frequently grow in Calluna heathland.

Acknowledgements

We have made provisional identifications from high resolution photos of living specimens, along with host plant identity. In the great majority of cases, identifications have been confirmed by microscopic examination of preserved specimens. We have used the keys and species accounts of Blackman & Eastop (1994)  and Blackman & Eastop (2006)  supplemented with Blackman (1974) , Stroyan (1977) , Stroyan (1984) , Blackman & Eastop (1984) , Heie (1980-1995) , Dixon & Thieme (2007)  and Blackman (2010) . 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

  •  Blackman, R.L. & Eastop, V. (2006) Aphids on the World's Herbaceous Plants and Shrubs. Vols 1 & 2. J. Wiley & Sons, Chichester, UK. Full text 

  •  Brian, M.V. et al. (1965). Ant pattern and density in a southern English heath. Journal of Animal Ecology 34(3), 545-555. Abstract 

  •  Stekoshchikov, A.V. & Buga, S.V. (2009). Aphid fauna of arctic and subarctic regions. 8th International Symposium on aphids, Catania, Italy. 8-12 June, 2009. p 64. Abstract 

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