UC Cooperative Extension specialist and agricultural entomologist Ian Grettenberger of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty, assisted with the KQED Deep Look video, "Born Pregnant: Aphids Invade with an Onslaught of Clones," that won a nature award equivalent to an Oscar.
Grettenberger provided his expertise--and some aphids--working with digital video producer Josh Cassidy, senior video producer for KQED Science and the lead producer and cinematographer for Deep Look, a short-form nature series that illuminates fascinating stories in the natural world.
Cassidy's aphid video scored an international Jackson Wild Media Award, winning first place in the category, "Animal Behavior, Short Form video (17 minutes or less)."
In selecting it as the best film in its category, the judges related that it "most effectively explores animal behavior in an innovative and illuminating way."
The aphid video came about when Cassidy approached Grettenberger looking for researchers working on aphids. "I told him I wasn't working in the lab with aphids, but he could come check out my garden, which happened to be chock full of them," Grettenberger related.
"It was almost all shot at my house/garden," Grettenberger said. "With COVID being a thing, Josh got to sit in my garage and shoot aphid videos. I helped some to form the story, and the final shots of the developing larvae/parasitoid were some I took since Josh couldn't sit around waiting for the parasitoid larvae to develop." Grettenberger is pictured in one of the frames.
The video reveals that "female aphids are the matriarchs of a successful family operation--taking over your garden. But don't lose hope; these pests have some serious predators and creepy parasites looking to take them down."
Comments posted on YouTube include:
- "You guys are just nailing it with this production and sound effects. Amazing!!"
- "BRILLIANTLY DONE!! Makes you want to "love" aphids !!!"
- "One more amazing video from this amazing channel! You guys rock!"
- "Deep Look is a phenomenal YouTube channel. The videos are so beautiful. I can't believe how their team keeps making epic after epic biologically significant videos."
Cassidy, who holds a bachelor's degree in wildlife biology from Ohio University and pursued research on marine mammals, studied science and natural history filmmaking at San Francisco State University and Montana State University. A long-time member of the Deep Look team, he is known for his excellent work in creating innovative and fascinating videos. See some of his science videos here.
Grettenberger, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty in January, 2019, focuses his research on field and vegetable crops; integrated pest management; applied insect ecology, and biological control of pests. He holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Western Washington University and a doctorate in entomology from Pennsylvania State University.
Grettenberger administers a YouTube channel on Pests and Natural Enemies. One of his most popular videos is his post on Lady Beetle Larvae and a Baby Aphid--Scoop, Scoop, Chomp Chomp: "A lady beetle larvae (Coccinella septempunctata--seven-spotted lady beetle) making short work of this baby aphid. You can see how they can eat *many* per day and help regulate aphid populations. (Predation part slowed down to 50%. They chow down more quickly). This is pea aphid, which can be a pest of alfalfa and other legume crops."
From KQED website: "KQED, a National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) affiliate in San Francisco, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, radio and web media. Funding for Deep Look is provided in part by PBS Digital Studios. Deep Look is a project of KQED Science, the largest science and environment reporting unit in California. KQED Science is supported by The National Science Foundation, the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Vadasz Family Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Campaign 21 and the members of KQED."
Step right up, folks!
I'm a lady beetle, aka ladybug, and it's lunch time.
Or maybe it's snack time, I don't know. I don't talk when my mouth is full.
What I do know is this: aphids are tasty and they line up to be eaten. Or sometimes it appears that way!
Lady beetles, the good guys and gals in the garden, are natural enemies of aphids and other soft-bodied insects. Scientists say a lady beetle may eat as many as 5000 aphids in its lifetime.
The red coloration serves as a warning that “I don't taste good.” When attacked, they ooze a substance that further emphasizes that.
Even the larvae of these beetles eat aphids. Unfortunately, the alligator-like larvae are mistaken for pests and many an novice gardener has killed them.
"They are ferocious predators of small insects," says Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and a UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology. In her information sheet on lady beetles, she mentions that "adults will also feed on pollen and nectar when their prey is scarce."
Factoid: "Lady beetles will occasionally bite humans. However, they apparently bite to collect salt rather than to defend themselves or to behave aggressively."
Kimsey includes five species of lady beetles, with photos, on her information sheet:
- Spotless lady beetle, Cycloneda sanguinea
- Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis
- Seven-spot lady beetle, Coccinella septempunctata
- Two-spot lady beetle, Adalia bipunctata
- Convergent lady beetle, Hippodamia convergens
The five are "mostly distinguished by the extent of white markings on the prothorax and the number of black
spots on the wing covers (elytra)," Kimsey says.
All hail the lady beetles!/span>/span>
The Red Coats are coming. The Red Coats are coming.
No, not an army of soldiers. Soldier beetles.
These insects (family Cantharida) resemble the uniforms of the British soldiers of the American Revolution, which is apparently how their name originated. They're also called "leatherwings" in reference to their leatherylike wing covers.
Soldier beetles are beneficial insects; they're the good guys and gals in the garden. The adults eat scores of aphids. In addition, they are pollinators. So, don't even think of killing soldier beetles. Enlist them in your garden to feast on aphids.
"The adults are long and narrow," according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM), which labels them as natural enemies of garden pests. "Common species are often about 1/2 inch (13 mm) long with a red, orange or yellow head and abdomen and black, gray or brown soft wing covers. Adults are often observed feeding on aphids or on pollen or nectar on flowering shrubs and trees. Metamorphosis is complete. Larvae are dark, elongate, and flattened. They feed under bark or in soil or litter, primarily on eggs and larvae of beetles, butterflies, moths, and other insects. There are over 100 species of soldier beetles in California."
If you want to know identify some of the natural enemies of garden pests, you can download UC IPM's educational poster, "Meet the Beneficials: Natural Enemies of Gardens" here.
The poster illustrates some of the beneficial insects, mites and spiders that prey on garden pests:
- Convergent lady beetle
(adult, larva, eggs)
- Green lacewing
(adult, larva, eggs)
- Predaceous ground beetle
- Assassin bug
- Pirate bug
- Damsel bug
- Soldier beetle
- Syrphid fly
- Sixspotted thrips
- Western predatory mites
- Predatory wasps
- Praying mantids
- Examples of parasites (including a typical life cycle)
These soldier beetles may even know how to pull rank.
Take that, you aphids! That'll teach you to suck the lifeblood out of my plants!
"Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects with long slender mouthparts that they use to pierce stems, leaves, and other tender plant parts and suck out fluids," according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management website on how to manage aphids. "Almost every plant has one or more aphid species that occasionally feed on it."
Aphids are major agricultural and garden pests. What's it like to be an aphid? How much stress can they handle?
Enter postdoctoral scholar Jessica Kansman of the Department of Entomology, Pennsylvania State University. She's the next speaker in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's winter seminar series. She'll speak on "To Be an Aphid in a Cruel World: How Abiotic and Biotic Stressors Influence Plant-Insect Interactions" from 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 24. To register and attend the Zoom seminar, access this Google form link.
"Whether it is combating the ever-changing host-plant conditions, or keeping careful watch for hungry predators and parasites--aphids have a stressful experience," Kansman says in her abstract. "My research has focused on figuring out just how much stress aphids can handle. Specifically, how plant water stress influences aphids and their natural enemies, and whether predator odors are as stressful for aphids as the predators themselves."
Kansman holds a bachelor's degree in entomology (2015) from Michigan State University, East Lansing, and a doctorate in plant, insect and microbial sciences (2020) from the University of Missouri, studying with Deborah Finke. As a doctoral student, she received a $116,859 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture "to study the effect of drought on aphid performance and behavior, indirect effects of drought on natural enemies, and how these effects cascade up to influence insect communities." The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) of USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded the grant.
Kansman has given such presentations as "Plants vs. Insects: A Tale of Spines, Spit and Assassins." In one YouTube video on "Decoding Science," she describes aphids as "devastating agricultural pests. They feed by piercing a needlelike mouthpart into the plant tissue and they use it as a straw to suck up the sap of the plant." Aphids stunt growth and transmit viruses.
For a list of Department of Entomology and Nematology seminars, click here.
You never know about those photo-bombers. You can't trust 'em.
So here I was, trying to photograph a tiny egg that a monarch butterfly had just deposited on our milkweed.
I held it up for a better look.
And then, the photo-bomber!
An oleander aphid, Aphis nerii, appeared out of nowhere and headed over to the egg for a quick "inspection."
Oleander aphids suck the juices, the very lifeblood, out of milkweed plants. They're yellow with black cornicles, they're non-native, and they're pests on milkweed when all you want are guests! (Like monarchs)
Want to know more about these pests? Check out the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program's website on aphids.
"Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects with long slender mouthparts that they use to pierce stems, leaves, and other tender plant parts and suck out fluids," UC IPM says. "Almost every plant has one or more aphid species that occasionally feed on it."
They are also quite good at photo-bombing. Trust me.