Ag & Natural Resources
County Extension Agent for Agriculture & Natural Resources
Telephone - 270-265-5659
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Wooly Aphids Falling Like Snowflakes
by: Curt Judy,
County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources
Over the past two or three weeks, folks around Todd County may have thought they've seen snowflakes falling from time to time. Tiny white flecks can be seen in the air, and they appear to be drifting on the wind like small ashes that have arisen from a campfire.
What people are actually seeing are small insects called woolly aphids. Their bodies are not much more than 1/16 inch long, and they are covered with a white wax that they secrete. When they are in the air, they are actually flying; but with all of the wax they carry, they move so slowly that they appear to be drifting on the wind. Not all aphids (or aphid generations) have wings, but the current generation of woolly aphids do. It is possible that they were around in the non-winged from earlier in the summer without being detected.
Aphids are sometimes known as plant lice-they feed by sucking liquid nutrients (sap) from their plant hosts. Most of the time, woolly aphids do not significantly damage their plant hosts, but they create a nuisance by excreting a sugar-rich waste product called honeydew. Honeydew can actually drip off the tree and make a mess on whatever happens to be underneath. To make matters worse, blackish sooty mold typically grows on the honeydew and it will stain trees, or the car, house, patio, or road underneath the tree where the honeydew has fallen.
So far, some of the heavier concentrations of these insects have been on hackberry trees, which leads UK Extension entomologist Dr. Lee Townsend to suggest that these may be a particular species known as Hackberry Woolly Aphids. Because host plants typically are not actually damaged, Dr. Townsend says that control measures are not necessary, unless the dripping honeydew is creating a problem.
Woolly aphids do not bite or sting humans or animals. Their mouthparts are such that they are completely unable to bite.
The white material seen on this woolly aphid is a waxy secretion that it produces itself. Without knowing, it's almost impossible to tell that this is an insect. This aphid's head is on the right, with the antenna pointing straight up and down. Rear legs are visible pointing out to the left, and the wings are coming out at small angles (top and bottom) from the mid-section. It is amazing that it can fly carrying all of this wax.
A large number of woolly aphids feeding on a hackberry leaf.
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