Life In A Dying Tomato Plant

x6 images. Double click to enlarge.

It is end of season for the tomato plant my neighbour had kindly given me in a hanging basket. It had been bountiful in fruit, but it was it now in its last days as autumn approaches, and I had the thought to look more closely at it before dropping it in the recyling bin.

Cartodere bifasciata

I have never seen a member of this family of beetles before. Latridiidae are known as ‘scavanger’ or ‘mould beetles’. This one is very small at 2 mm (5/64 in) long, and is called Cartodere bifasciata. It feeds on spores and moulds found on rotting plant materials.

Empoasca decipiens
Possible Empoasca decipiens nymph

There were several of these green leafhoppers, adults and possible larvae. Called Empoasca decipiens, one of 3 very similar UK species, they extract sap from the plant on which they feed.

Parasitised Aphid – possibly Aphelinus mummy

Like a scene from the film Alien, I discovered the dead remains of this wingless aphid. You can’t miss the obvious hole in the abdomen where something … probably a braconid wasp … burst out.

Peach-potato Aphid Myzus (Nectarosiphon) persicae

We have a live aphid here … most likely the Peach-potato Aphid (Myzus (Nectarosiphon) persicae). The apterae (lacking wings) are generally yellowish-green but vary from whitish or pale yellowish green to mid-green, rose-pink or red. They are often darker in cold conditions.

Parasitised Aphid

Another parasitised aphid all tethered … which goes to show that nature has a way of keeping the equilibrium.

I also spotted several running-crab spiders and money spiders … but all too quick and unwilling to hang around for a photo shoot. So even within its death throws a plant can still support so much life … and just focusing the mind and the eyes on a different plane can open up so much.

Microcosmos II

Rose Aphid (Macrosiphum rosae) – Again, looking through the rose cuttings I came across what I initially thought was just an aphid, until I looked closer and noticed it appeared to be fixed to the leaf by a silken pad of sorts. I discovered that the aphid had been parasitised by a braconid wasp, possibly Praon sp. The wasp grub would have fed on the inside of the aphid killing it, and now it has formed the cocoon from which it will eventually emerge as an adult. Some of these parasitoid wasps have been used in biocontrol to help keep down aphid pestilence in farming.

Double-click image for a closer look.

Ghosts of Insects Passed

Across the surface of the rose leaf can be seen the ghostly remains of the shed skin of an aphid that has passed by. This is all part of the insect’s metamorphosis processes. Most aphid nymphs are born live, and they have to go through a series of moultings – also called ecdysis – to develop. Moulting can be a risky buisness as it renders the subject immobile during this phase and vulnerable to predators. Aphids usually have to pass through 4 instars to reach full maturity. The remaining cast skin is called exuvia.

Click and click again on the image to get that little bit closer …

May 2019, rear garden, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman.

War of The Roses

Rose And Aphid

Again I have gone to photograph one of my roses to find something else keeping it company. This aphid is one of its arch enemies, of course, but they appear to be taking a break from the battle. For now.

Photograph of a greenfly on a rose, taken September 2016, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D7200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens. ISO 400. 1/160 sec. f/11.

The Gardener’s Best Friend

Meligramma trianguliferum

I discovered this brightly coloured hoverfly larva on my sweet pea doing its duty and eating an aphid. This one is not very big in size, but they come in all manner of shapes, sizes, patterns and colours, depending on the species. One thing is that those species that eat aphids have a huge appetite for them, helping the gardener keep the pest aphids at bay.

Photograph  taken of hoverfly Meligramma trianguliferum larva in August 2016, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D3200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.

Update: Thanks to Mick E Talbot at his fabulous blog ‘My Garden Diversity’, who has helped me identify this hoverfly larva as Meligramma trianguliferum. Below is the only photo of the adult I have, which was taken in 2013.

Meligramma trianguliferum

2-spot Ladybird

Adalia bipunctata

This can be quite a variable ladybird, with the typical form having 2 black spots on bright red elytra, as in the above photograph. Other forms have black elytra with 2, 4 or 6 red spots. They are fairly small, growing up to 6mm long.

It is a very fierce predator of aphids.

Found all year round, and in the winter months it maybe found hibernating in sheltered crevices of bark or in outbuildings like garden sheds. It is most active March to November. Seen in most habitats, including hedgerows and gardens. An abundant and widespread species throughout Great Britain.

Photograph taken May 2014, rear garden, Staffordshire.

March of The Aphids

We may call them greenfly, blackfly, whitefly or plant lice, but whatever type you have you don’t like them sucking on your plants. Aphids belong to the order of insects called Hemiptera, or the True Bugs, and they are one of the most destructive insect families. They can do immense damage to garden plants and food crops, and they reproduce at an amazingly speedy rate.

Many aphids are monophagous, which means they feed solely on one particular species of plant, whilst others aren’t all that fussy about species and they will feed on almost any plant.They feed by puncturing the plant tissue and then sucking up the sap. This can also spread viruses which can kill the plants.

But help is at hand with gardener friendly insects like ladybirds, lacewings, wasps and hoverflies, which, in their larvae state (larvae and adult with ladybirds) feed on the aphids. Crab spiders also feed on aphids.

So don’t reach for the spray gun just yet. Let nature take its course.

Photographs taken June 2016, rear garden, Staffordshire.