Bugs with dreadlocks

At this time of year you need to be content with miniature marvels.

This white fluffy cottony fringe on the underside of an alder twig is the collective security blanket of a number of Woolly Alder Aphids, Paraprociphilus tessellatus:

Each aphid secretes a coarse wax which twines into filaments up to 2 inches long, often completely concealing the insect underneath. It keeps them from drying out.

On a different twig, they were being more standoffish, so you could see them one by one:

I took some home, to try and get some closeups. The aphid is 1/16″ long, so this is a challenge:

I used my new lightbox to get this portrait, and I also took a video to prove that it is indeed a living creature. It is speeded up, and the poor thing has settled in for the winter and is not keen on being disturbed, so it is barely awake, and has its hair in its eyes, so to speak:

Its name tesselatus comes from the mosaic pattern on its back.

They need two tree species for their life cycle. In spring they feed on silver maple leaves, and then from summer into fall they move to alder twigs. Most overwinter as eggs, but some adults overwinter in colonies like these and give birth to live young females in the spring.

They can fly, and must be quite a sight in flight, but I have never seen this.

PS My title’s comparison to dreadlocks (aka dreads or locs) is plausible. Dreadlocks can be created by a hairdresser, but if human hair is left alone long enough it will eventually entwine itself naturally into dreadlocks. These aphids seem to grow short fluffy strands at first, and out of this fuzz come the long curly ringlets.

I am assuming no hair salon was involved.

7 thoughts on “Bugs with dreadlocks”

  1. Very interesting. Great photos! First photo looks like a fluffy caterpillar. I’m assuming you brought them back to the Alder twig?


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