Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Many are drawn to sunflowers

with 14 comments

Click for greater clarity.

I read an article in the Austin newspaper a few weeks ago saying that this has been a particularly good—or bad, depending on your point of view—year for aphids. Here you see a bunch of them on the underside of the leaf of a sunflower, Helianthus annuus. I took this photograph on August 7 when I visited the prairie restoration at Austin’s former Mueller Airport in order to have some recent pictures for a slide show about native plants that I was to give there a couple of weeks later.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

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Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 3, 2012 at 5:59 AM

14 Responses

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  1. Those are some teeny critters! I initially magnified the clarity view, then opened the view into my graphics editor to magnify more. Notice that there seems to be several life stages occurring, bug-versions of pop, mom, teen, adolescent, baby. (OK, I’m really weak with bug life-cycle knowledge and terms.) You just impelled me to do a lookup of “aphids life cycle stages”.

    Here’s a good, short explanation of a bug’s life for aphids (http://blog.ecosmart.com/index.php/2009/09/25/aphid-life-cycle-4-life-stages-of-a-pest/). “Nymphs greatly resemble the adults, with size being the most noticeable difference. … The nymph will go through several ecdyses (molts) before becoming an adult. Finding the shells from these molts is a sign of a growing infestation problem. … After the molts, aphids reach adult stage. There is no pupal stage.”

    whilldtkwriter

    September 3, 2012 at 7:56 AM

    • One fascinating thing that I found at the site you linked is: “Aphids also begin growing before birth. In fact, a nymph will begin to develop before its mother is born, i.e. while it’s still in grandmother.”

      If I can go off on a cultural and language tangent, I’ll add that the writer and critic H.L. Mencken humorously turned to the ancient Greek word ecdysis, which meant ‘a shedding’, to create ecdysiast as a fancy term for a stripper. Looks like entomologists have gone to the same source. Each to his own entertainment, right?

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2012 at 8:57 AM

  2. Steve, have you ever noticed how the really large colonies of aphids will move in waves if you get your hand too close? Have you also noticed how many beautiful colors they come in? Green, yellow as here, ruby red, black and more. I wonder if it is the sap they eat or the type they are? Time to do some investigating. ;)

    The sunflower’s petals dressed the leaf edges nicely!
    ~ Lynda

    pixilated2

    September 3, 2012 at 8:54 AM

    • No, I’ve never noticed aphids moving in waves in response to a hand put very close to them. Next time I see a large group of them I’ll have to try that. As for colors, here in Austin I seem to find mostly yellow ones. I’m up for the variety of the other colors you mentioned, if nature will cooperate.

      I’m glad you appreciated the way the yellow sunflower rays frame the leaf. I’m often on the lookout for camera positions that line up contrasting things, even if that means putting my body in some contorted positions to do so.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2012 at 9:04 AM

    • Interesting! The red aphids get their color from a fungal gene they carry giving them the ability to produce their own carotene.

      http://scienceblogs.com/myrmecos/2010/04/30/how-the-aphid-got-its-pink/

      pixilated2

      September 3, 2012 at 9:15 AM

  3. I love the sunflower fields that grow around me but I have never looked under their leaves!

    afrenchgarden

    September 3, 2012 at 12:27 PM

    • I’ve found quite a variety of little creatures under plant leaves, so I’m in the habit of looking.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2012 at 1:54 PM

  4. Many may be drawn – but not all! I can do spiders, snakes, assassin bugs and a wide variety of other creepy-crawlies, but aphids freak me out. I rarely have them, but when I do, they’re everywhere, and I turn into Attila-the-Plant-Hun.

    Actually, the relationships among aphids, ants (which like to farm them) and ladybugs (which adore eating them) is pretty interesting. There’s a great dramatic sequence here.

    shoreacres

    September 3, 2012 at 5:20 PM

    • From a gardener’s perspective—which you imply is yours—aphids aren’t fun. That’s what I had in mind when I wrote “or bad, depending on your point of view.” I find aphids out there in nature fairly often, sometimes in the presence of the ants that you mentioned and that are featured at the site you provided the link to.

      Before I started this blog I used my other blog to post a picture of an ant tending aphids:

      https://wordconnections.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/afido/

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2012 at 5:43 PM

      • That really is a terrific photo at the link. I almost – almost! – thought, “cute”.

        This bit of information kept nagging at me: “Linnaeus, the great 18th-century categorizer of plants, created the genus name Aphis, with stem Aphid-, as if it were a Greek noun…” I couldn’t quite figure out why it seemed to familiar, until I remember that the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is known as – APHIS!

        shoreacres

        September 3, 2012 at 7:21 PM

        • I’m pleased that I nudged you almost to the point of nudging aphids into the cute zone.

          Now you’ve made me wonder whether the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service was purposely given that name so that it could have the acronym APHIS. It seems too good to be merely a coincidence, and I’ve found lots of examples proving that biologists have a sense of humor when they name things.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 3, 2012 at 8:43 PM

  5. Great details in there! Quite fascinating pic : )

    Firasz

    September 12, 2012 at 10:02 PM


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