In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
May, 2007
Regional Report

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Birds eat these aphids from the silvery foliage of brittlebush.

Juicy Aphids

Aphids are cool-season insects, and it seems too warm right now for much of a population to be hanging around. But yesterday, I spotted a house finch pecking in an artemisia bush near the front sidewalk. The plant doesn't offer seeds at this time, so when I went in for a closer look to see what the finch was so excited about, I discovered the new growth supported pale green aphids. Insects comprise a big chunk of bird diets, especially for babies because insects are easy-to-digest protein.

Just a few minutes ago, I paused for a few minutes to watch a hummingbird visit pink globe mallow and Baja red fairy duster blossoms, when my eye noticed motion in the brittlebush. A tiny verdin was hopping around, no doubt drawn by the many darker-colored aphids I noticed on the silvery foliage just yesterday.

Years ago I used to worry about aphids gaining the upper hand, and I'd hurry to remove them with a blast of water from the hose. Now, I'm glad to see aphids because I know they draw birds and beneficial insects to my garden.

Beneficial Insects
In addition to birds, beneficial predator insects are drawn to aphids. Lady beetle adults and larvae, green lacewing larvae, praying mantids, assassin bugs, big-eyed bugs, damsel bugs, and syrphid fly larvae all feed on aphids. Parasitic wasps lay their eggs in aphids. When the larvae hatch, they feed on the living aphid and release a substance that causes the aphid to harden. Eventually the wasp will depart, leaving behind a dead aphid "mummy." These are not stinging wasps, so there's no need to fear them.

Once beneficial insects arrive, they will hang around to eat pests as long as there is a meal waiting. I never use pesticides as I have a hungry and free labor force of birds, lizards, and beneficial insects that also provide me with hours of enjoyment and discovery.


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