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Short-tailed plantain aphidOn this page: Identification & Distribution Biology & Ecology Other aphids on ribwort plantain
Identification & Distribution:Adult apterae of Brachycaudus lucifugus are yellowish-green with a shiny dark brown to black dorsum (see first picture below). The dorsal patch is often broken into cross-bands. Abdominal tergite 8 bears 4 very short (less than 10 μm) hairs in a single row, like the dorsal hairs on more anterior segments.
The Brachycaudus lucifugus alate does not have broad cross bands or a large dark patch on the dorsal abdomen, but has transverse bars on tergites 7 and 8 with rarely a few sclerotic spots forming lines on tergites 4-6 only.
The short-tailed plantain aphid lives on roots, and root collar, and at the leaf bases of ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata). There is no host alternation. Brachycaudus lucifugus is usually ant attended, as in the second picture above. Oviparae and small apterous males can be found in autumn. In England it is restricted to southern counties. Elsewhere in Europe Brachycaudus lucifugus is known from Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Switzerland.
Biology & Ecology:
We have only found Brachycaudus lucifugus in one coastal location - at Birling Gap in East Sussex - where its host plant, ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) (see pictures below) grows in abundance.
Brachycaudus lucifugus certainly lives up to its Latin name, 'lucifugus' meaning 'fleeing from light', making it quite difficult to collect and photograph. As soon as a colony is revealed, usually on the root collar, the aphids disappear into the surrounding soil at high speed. This is especially the case for adults - hence our less than impressive photos in this case.
Stroyan (1964) notes the close morphological similarity between Brachycaudus lucifugus and Brachycaudus linariae, a species found only on yellow toadflax (Linaria), and suggests they exemplify the close affinity existing between certain phytophagous insects associated with species of Plantaginaceae and Scrophulariaceae. A similar species pair is also found in the genus Dysaphis with Dysaphis plantaginea on Plantago lanceolata and Dysaphis gallica on Cymbalara muralis (ivy-leaved toadflax).
Stroyan (1964) also noted a close parallel between the aphid Brachycaudus lucifugus and the Glanville fritillary butterfly (Melitaea cinxia), given that both feed on ribwort plantain and both (at least in Britain) have an extreme southern distribution being (at that time) only known to occur on the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands. He postulated that Brachycaudus lucifugus would also be found to occur in parts of south-east Kent, and we have now found it in East Sussex.
Other aphids on ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata):Blackman & Eastop list 16 species of aphid as feeding on Plantago lanceolata worldwide, and provide formal identification keys. Of those aphid species, Baker (2015) lists 15 as occurring in Britain: Aphis fabae, Aphis gossypii, Aphis nasturtii, Aphis plantaginis, Aphis solanella, Aulacorthum solani, Brachycaudus helichrysi, Brachycaudus lucifugus, Dysaphis aucupariae, Dysaphis maritima, Dysaphis plantaginea, Myzus ascalonicus, Myzus ornatus and Myzus persicae.
Bell et al. (2015) (Appendix S2) have also published an "annotated checklist of aphids present in the UK". We discuss some of the reasons for the differences between Baker's and Bell's lists in our rare aphids page.
The only species we have found feeding on Plantago lanceolata is Aphis plantaginis, another plantain root specialist (see picture above), which occurred together with Brachycaudus lucifugus in the same habitat. Aphis plantaginis is not, however, restricted to Plantago lanceolata, being equally common on other species such as hoary plantain (Plantago media). Also the populations of Aphis plantaginis that we have found were tended by a different ant species - Lasius niger rather than Lasius flavus.