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Red-banded birch aphidIdentification & Distribution Biology & Ecology Other aphids on the same host
Identification & Distribution:Callipterinella tuberculata apterae are usually yellowish with a brown head, a reddish-brown dorsal band over the front of the abdomen and a dark quadratic patch on abdominal tergites 4-6. However, the dark markings are very variable. The dorsum has dark, strong hairs and spinules on each segment. The antennae may have five or six segments. The antennal terminal process is 1.7-2.8 times longer than the base of the last antennal segment. The siphunculi are dusky with rows of small spinules. The cauda is very short with only a slight constriction. The body length of Callipterinella tuberculata apterae is 2.3-2.5 mm.
Winged forms of Callipterinella tuberculata have reddish brown patches on the dorsum of the first abdominal segment and irregular small brown sclerites on posterior abdominal tergites, but no transverse bands.
Red banded birch aphids are found in colonies on young growth and scattered on older leaves of silver birch (Betula pendula). In Europe they are restricted to this one species of birch, but in Siberia apterous Callipterinella with a dorsal quadrate patch similar to Callipterinella tuberculata have been found on several different Betula species. Apterous males and oviparae are found in September. This species is found across Europe and (probably) in East Siberia and China.
Biology & Ecology:
Callipterinella tuberculata excels in producing a range of cryptic and/or aposematic colour forms. The first instar nymphs are light green which (most of the time) enables them to be very inconspicuous on birch leaves and shoots (see picture below).
Later instars (III onwards) and adults have red brown bands, with a black spot added on the adult. The first impression this gives is of aposematic coloration, but it can depend on the coloration of the particular leaf or shoot. Young birch leaves can be very reddish, as in the case of the leaf in the first picture below, in which case the aphid colouring is cryptic. Slightly older leaves tend to be pale green on the underside (see second picture below), and the aposematic pattern is more striking.
The black and red patterning also suggests disruptive coloration, where a block of highly contrasting coloration and sharp boundaries prevent a predator from detecting or recognizing the preys outline (Caro, 2009 ).
Just to complicate matters, when numbers build up on the underside of the leaf, it is not uncommon for aphids to spill over to the upper leaf surface (see picture above) which is a darker green. There the younger nymphs are colour-matched when on the mid-vein, but all stages are conspicuous on the rest of the leaf surface, with the red stripes especially noticeable. The aposematic coloration is likely to be targeted at insectivorous birds which have colour vision and can often be seen searching the leaves of birch trees for prey. We cannot tell whether the aphids really are distasteful, or are just using a generalised warning pattern (=Mullerian mimicry).
Aposematic coloration might dissuade vertebrate predators, but will not function for arthropod predators such as coccinellid and syrphid larvae. The strategy adopted by Callipterinella for minimizing predation from arthropod predators is to produce honeydew attractive to ants.
Out of 9 colonies we have examined, nearly 70% were attended by ants, and other workers have also found that the species is nearly always ant-attended. In our case, attendance was always by Lasius niger (see pictures below), with none by Formica, Myrmica or Lasius fuliginosus, despite the fact that these species were present at several sites. Novgorodova & Gavrilyuk (2012) working in Siberia found that Callipterinella tuberculata was tended by eight different species in ants, although they did not indicate which.
Tending is most commonly done by stroking with the antennae (see picture above), although we have seen them using both the palpi (first picture below) and the mandibles (second picture below).
In Belgium Portha & Detrain (2004) found no evidence of competition between Callipterinella tuberculata and another birch feeding aphid, Betulaphis brevipilosa. Instead the two species were positively associated at the shoot level. They suggested that this was a result of aggregation at suitable feeding sites. Colonies of both species were similar or larger in mixed aggregates than in monospecific ones.
We have not noted any association with Betulaphis (in our case Betulaphis quadrituberculata ), but have on several occasions found Callipterinella tuberculata in mixed colonies with Glyphina betulae (the green aphids shown above).
There seem to be very few records of predators taking Callipterinella tuberculata, probably because attending ants keep them away.
We have observed a predatory cecidomyiid larva eating a nymph at the edge of a colony (see first picture above) and an adult Coccinella septempunctata resting on an infested twig (second picture above).
Other aphids on same host:
Blackman & Eastop list about 72 species of aphids as feeding on birches worldwide, and provides formal identification keys for aphids on Betula. Of the 17 species on Betula pendula, Baker (2015) lists 14 as occurring in Britain: Betulaphis brevipilosa, Betulaphis quadrituberculata, Calaphis betulicola, Calaphis flava, Callipterinella calliptera, Callipterinella minutissima, Callipterinella tuberculata, Clethrobius comes, Euceraphis betulae, Glyphina betulae, Hamamelistes betulinus, Monaphis antennata, Stomaphis quercus and Symydobius oblongus.