Friday, Nov. 9, 2001
* Japanese name: Aburamushi
* Scientific name: Aphididae
* Description: Aphids are small, green insects that grow 1-6 mm long. They have soft, oval-shaped bodies, sometimes with wings and sometimes without. They have long, tubular mouths, like drinking straws. There are more than 600 species of aphid in Japan alone. They are also called arimaki (ant cow) in Japanese, because they often live with ants (ari), which herd them together (maki).
* Where to find them: Aphids are often present on trees and bushes in huge numbers. They live in parks, gardens and in the countryside, from Hokkaido to Okinawa.
* Food: Aphids use their needlelike mouthparts to pierce plant stems, leaves or roots and drink the juices. Plant sap is very rich in sugar and water but contains relatively few other nutrients. This means an aphid has to drink large amounts of sap to get enough nutrients. It expels the sugary water it doesn't need -- this is called honeydew (abura in Japanese), and it falls onto whatever is underneath it: the lower leaves of the tree, or maybe a car. The honeydew attracts ants, who come to feed on the sugar. Some ants "farm" aphids for honeydew, like we farm cows for milk, and protect them from predators, such as ladybugs. They might be small, but aphids can cause serious damage to plants.
* Special features: "Star Wars Episode II" is called "Attack of the Clones," which would be a good title for a film about aphids: They clone themselves and then attack trees. Some female aphids do not lay eggs but give birth to genetically identical clones. What is more, aphid eggs start developing as soon as they are formed, which means that an aphid can have, within her body, her developing embryonic daughters and, inside them, developing granddaughters. This "telescoping" of generations means that a single aphid can give rise to an immense colony of clones very quickly. Other species reproduce sexually with winged males that fly around looking for mates.