Aphids (superfamily Aphidoidea) are some of the most common pests you’ll encounter in the garden or on houseplants. Approximately 5,000 species of aphids are out there, and all of them want to suck your plants dry.
But you might have heard some people describe aphids doing something peculiar. Are the stories of winged aphids true, or is there a mixup with another pest going on?
Do Aphids Fly?
Well, they do, and they don’t, depending on a few factors. As a general rule, however, aphids don’t fly or have wings.
So When Do Aphids Get Wings?
Some aphid species are capable of developing wings. However, this ability is limited and will only happen when a population grows out of control.
As the infested plant becomes overcrowded and begins to die, the species capable of flight produce eggs that will hatch into alates.
An alate is a winged nymph that can migrate to new plants, allowing the infestation to spread.
The interesting part is that alates don’t simply happen – there’s a bit of a process involved.
Birth Of The Alates
Aphids are surprisingly complex when it comes to their reproductive capabilities. Some reproduce sexually, and some reproduce asexually.
They might even choose woody plant hosts in the winter and herbaceous in the summer – the latter on which they’ll breed.
But what makes aphids so difficult to manage sometimes is that a single female will lay up to 200 eggs over their lifetime.
The eggs hatch into nymphs that are already pregnant through a process known as parthenogenesis.
Thus, it’s possible to have dozens of generations in a single growing season.
But this rapid reproduction comes at a price, namely the quick depletion of plant sap in the host plant.
As the plant becomes incapable of sustaining more aphids, the females will begin to lay eggs that hatch into winged female alates.
Oddly, a single female may lay both alate and non-alate eggs, and all alates are female.
But then the female alates will lay eggs that hatch into male alates.
Once the males are hatched, the alates of both sexes will leave the host plant searching for new homes (and to mate).
What Happens To The Alates?
Aphids aren’t skilled fliers by any means, and the wings merely serve to get them from point A to point B by riding on the wind, much like the parachutes some spiderlings create.
They’ll descend on sometimes several plants, tasting the sap until they find something suitable.
Upon landing on this promising new host, the alates immediately dig in and return to feeding and laying eggs.
But the wings, which have served their purpose, will simply fall off within a few days of setting up shop.
This is why you don’t see adult aphids with wings.
Why You Should Be Wary Of Flying Aphids
Aphids can be frustrating pests under the best circumstances, but the alates can pose a special threat to your plants.
Their habit of landing on a plant, piercing a leaf, tasting the sap, then leaving if the plant doesn’t suit their palate has led to more destruction than simply feeding on a single plant.
The sap is essentially the plant’s version of blood. It carries water and nutrients to all parts of the plant and is part of its immune system.
But, like blood, plant sap can house diseases, including viral infections for which there’s no cure (such as mosaic diseases).
Every time an aphid pierces a plant and tastes the sap, there’s a chance it’s either infection a plant or becoming a vector for an already present disease.
So a single disease-carrying alate might infect a dozen or more plants before it finds a suitable host.
Alates don’t just happen, and they’re a product of overcrowding.
Alates will never be created by taking steps to control, eliminate, and prevent aphid infestations.
Neem soil soaks, along with companion planting and attracting natural predators, can be an effective multi-angle way to ensure the safety of your plants from aphids and their disease-spreading offspring.
Remember, when it comes to your garden and especially indoor plants, you’re the first and sometimes the last line of defense against aphid infestations.