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Last week I gave you two photographs that were teeming with insects. Many of you recognized the orange-yellow bumps were aphids.

Okay, it is very small, but between the legs of the butterfly is a newly hatched caterpillar. See the little guy with the black head at the arrow tip? It is a monarch butterfly caterpillar.

In this video, you can see one hatching under a microscope. (Video has music).

Another insect is hidden within those dark-colored aphids.

See the ones that are black or dark red? They are parasitized, which means they are carrying a tiny wasp larva inside them.

Eventually the dark aphids will stiffen and cling to the stem. In that stage they are called an aphid mummy. After a few days the larvae inside will complete its life cycle, pupate and then emerge as an adult wasp.

Photograph by Sarefo

You can see where a wasp emerged from this aphid mummy through the round hole in the back.

Here's the tiny wasp that emerged from the hole. She will lay her eggs in yet more aphids, resulting in yet more aphid mummies.

Finally, there is one other interesting thing about this picture. See that the butterfly has its mouthparts extended? I watched this butterfly for several minutes before taking its picture. It was sucking up the honeydew from the aphids.

We got to see all this because we planted a special plant in our yard. Do you have any plants that attract insects in your yard?

tiny-wasp

Can you spot the wasp in this photograph?

Did you know that wasps come in all sizes, including tinier than an aphid?

The yellow oleander aphids return each year about this time and feed on our desert milkweed. In turn, a number of other organisms use them for food, such as the tiny wasps.

Oleander aphids, Aphis nerii, are bright yellow and black insects found feeding both on oleanders and various species of milkweeds. Interestingly, both milkweeds and oleanders are poisonous.

See if you can notice something about the next few pictures of oleander aphids on our desert milkweed.

oleander aphids

oleander aphids

oleander aphids

Both my son and I noticed right away that the aphids are all crowded on the new growth, which is rather reddish in color.
aphid wasp
Aphid colonies, as they are called, are often hotbeds of intrigue and danger. A tiny parasitic wasp is attacking the aphids on this branch (see just below the cluster of aphids). The wasp lays her eggs within the body of the aphids. The larva of the wasp feeds inside the aphid, eventually turning it into a brown, hardened structure called a “mummy.”

oleander aphids

The coppery brown circles towards the bottom of the colony are mummies. Inside the mummy the wasp pupates. Eventually the adult wasp cuts a hole through the mummy and emerges into the world.

Although usually merely regarded as garden pests, aphids are actually interesting creatures, They are also food for a number of different forms of wildlife. I leave these aphids alone because I know that the wasps, lady beetles and flower flies that feed on the oleander aphids will also feed on any other aphids drifiting into my garden.