AGENCY FOR TOXIC SUBSTANCES AND DISEASE REGISTRY

Aphid

Aphids are small sap-sucking insects and members of the superfamily Aphidoidea. Common names include greenfly and blackfly, although individuals within a species can vary widely in colour. The group includes the fluffy white woolly aphids. A typical life cycle involves flightless females giving living birth to female nymphs without the involvement of males. Maturing rapidly, females breed profusely so that the number of these insects multiplies quickly. Winged females may develop later in the season, allowing the insects to colonise new plants. In temperate regions, a phase of sexual reproduction occurs in the autumn, with the insects often overwintering as eggs.

Aphids, adelgids, and phylloxerids are very closely related, and are all within the suborder Sternorrhyncha, the plant-sucking bugs. They are either placed in the insect superfamily Aphidoidea or into the superfamily Phylloxeroidea which contains the family Adelgidae and the family Phylloxeridae. Like aphids, phylloxera feed on the roots, leaves, and shoots of grape plants, but unlike aphids, do not produce honeydew or cornicle secretions. Phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae) are insects which caused the Great French Wine Blight that devastated European viticulture in the 19th century. Similarly, adelgids or woolly conifer aphids, also feed on plant phloem and are sometimes described as aphids, but are more properly classified as aphid-like insects, because they have no cauda or cornicles.

They have long, thin legs with two-jointed, two-clawed tarsi. The majority of aphids are wingless, but winged forms are produced at certain times of year in many species. Most aphids have a pair of cornicles (siphunculi), abdominal tubes on the dorsal surface of their fifth abdominal segment, through which they exude droplets of a quick-hardening defensive fluid containing triacylglycerols, called cornicle wax. Other defensive compounds can also be produced by some species. Aphids have a tail-like protrusion called a cauda above their rectal apertures.

Xylem sap consumption may be related to osmoregulation. High osmotic pressure in the stomach, caused by high sucrose concentration, can lead to water transfer from the hemolymph to the stomach, thus resulting in hyperosmotic stress and eventually to the death of the insect. Aphids avoid this fate by osmoregulating through several processes. Sucrose concentration is directly reduced by assimilating sucrose toward metabolism and by synthesizing oligosaccharides from several sucrose molecules, thus reducing the solute concentration and consequently the osmotic pressure. Oligosaccharides are then excreted through honeydew, explaining its high sugar concentrations, which can then be used by other animals such as ants. Furthermore, water is transferred from the hindgut, where osmotic pressure has already been reduced, to the stomach to dilute stomach content. Eventually, aphids consume xylem sap to dilute the stomach osmotic pressure. All these processes function synergetically, and enable aphids to feed on high-sucrose-concentration plant sap, as well as to adapt to varying sucrose concentrations.

However, aphid reproduction is often more complex than this and involves migration between different host plants. In about 10% of species, there is an alternation between woody (primary hosts) on which the aphids overwinter and herbaceous (secondary) host plants, where they reproduce abundantly in the summer. A few species can produce a soldier caste, other species show extensive polyphenism under different environmental conditions and some can control the sex ratio of their offspring depending on external factors.

Some farming ant species gather and store the aphid eggs in their nests over the winter. In the spring, the ants carry the newly hatched aphids back to the plants. Some species of dairying ants (such as the European yellow meadow ant, Lasius flavus) manage large herds of aphids that feed on roots of plants in the ant colony. Queens leaving to start a new colony take an aphid egg to found a new herd of underground aphids in the new colony. These farming ants protect the aphids by fighting off aphid predators.

Plants exhibiting aphid damage can have a variety of symptoms, such as decreased growth rates, mottled leaves, yellowing, stunted growth, curled leaves, browning, wilting, low yields and death. The removal of sap creates a lack of vigour in the plant, and aphid saliva is toxic to plants. Aphids frequently transmit plant viruses to their hosts, such as to potatoes, cereals, sugarbeets, and citrus plants. The green peach aphid, Myzus persicae, is a vector for more than 110 plant viruses. Cotton aphids (Aphis gossypii) often infect sugarcane, papaya and peanuts with viruses. In plants which produce the phytoestrogen coumestrol, such as alfalfa, damage by aphids is linked with higher concentrations of coumestrol.