Tuesday, January 5, 2010 Leave a comment
Originally published September 24, 2009.
Like any good apocalypse scenario, our aphid-caused end of the world may really be our own fault.
I know, the idea of an “aphid apocalypse” is a bit melodramatic. But I’m starting to believe that we’ve summoned the annoying swarms of soybean aphids—or at the very least, given them the freedom to multiply into the endless clouds of them we’ve seen in Champaign-Urbana in the last week.
Many have expressed the sentiment that the aphid situation has not been this bad in the last several years. Large numbers of Buffalo gnats have presented more serious complications in Illinois for a couple of summers because they can do more than annoy humans: they bite, and that biting can cause fatal allergic reactions in chickens, drawing the concern of local poultry farmers.
Another irritating pest has been a notable problem in soybean country, coinciding with this period of decreased aphid population. Asian lady beetles, brought into the United States in the seventies and eighties, have drawn the ire of many Midwesterners.
True to their name, the beetles look like the native species of ladybugs we know and love. They vary in color from red to orange and—if you remember anything about ladybugs from fourth-grade science—they love to eat aphids, which explains why they were brought to the U.S.
Though they can establish lodging in many varieties of plants, Asian lady beetles don’t eat any of the ones important to farmers. Grape growers have complained of accidentally mashing them with fruit during the winemaking process, but they don’t seem to cause widespread damage to crops.
Unfortunately, Asian lady beetles tend to swarm houses during autumn in search of places to weather the coming winter. They also release a disgusting-smelling yellow goo if you squash them. Despite the beneficial purpose for their importation by American agriculturists, everyone else seems to hate them.
Part of the reason for their appearance in the U.S. is the decline of the native ladybug population, which has had both entomologists and farmers scratching their heads. The void they left in the aphid-eating chain was quickly filled by the Asian lady beetles, and their proliferation might have further contributed to native ladybugs’ disappearance.
As previously mentioned, news and pest information sources have taken to warning people in advance of Asian lady beetles’ annual residential siege. And when non-human animals get too numerous, we start our usual plotting of ways to obliterate them, our current dilemma being no exception.
So, if we’re killing off Asian lady beetles that we brought in for pest control and which may have contributed to the drastic shrinkage of the native ladybug population, what’s the problem?
Maybe it’s the one we’re dealing with right now.
An article in the News-Gazette on Tuesday covering the soybean aphid migration mentioned that the Asian lady beetle has not been able to rival aphids’ ability to procreate this year, but provided no clues as to why. I wonder…
In the process of spraying for other things and keeping them out of our homes (in which they don’t eat anything, unlike moths, crickets, and carpenter ants), maybe we’ve dealt their population as great a hit as we have our native spotted friends.
No ladybugs and no Asian lady beetles mean many, many more aphids than we’ve seen in the past. My initial aggravation at their presence has been drained away by my impression that, well, we asked for it. The mass migration of the soybean aphids through C-U is a jab of encouragement for us to wonder if it’s really worth it to keep up our current model of pesticide-heavy farming, our tendency toward hermetically-sealed homes, and our vendetta against every other living creature on the planet.
So, as aphids forcibly cause your eyes to water, I ask that you stop and shed a tear for the ladybugs.
Chelsea is a senior in LAS.