Tag Archives: parasitoids

Not all aphids grow up to be aphids – the enemy within

It has been said that if aphids had their own way and unlimited resources the world as we know it would be 149 km deep in the cute little beasts (Harrington, 1994 ). Last year I wrote about how predators that feed on aphids, although useful, don’t really cut the mustard when it comes to keeping them in check and suggested that their host plants played a major role in keeping aphids from taking over the World.  While they do play an important part in keeping aphid populations under control, and are aided and abetted by aphid specific predators, there are, however, some much more efficient aphid-specific natural enemies out there.  They may be less conspicuous than the brightly coloured ladybirds that we often see munching their way through aphid colonies; public perception of their name may make people wince, but these beautiful and graceful creatures make sure that our appetite for salads and exotic vegetables out of season is satisfied safely and efficiently.  Their life cycles rival that of their prey, or should that be hosts, and entomologists fondly imagine that the film Alien was inspired by them 😊

I am, of course, talking about parasitic wasps, or parasitoids as they are more commonly known.  They are called parasitoids because unlike true parasites which generally speaking keep their hosts alive, insect victims of these wasps will, if successfully parasitized, die well before their non-parasitized relatives. In case you were wondering, the term parasitoid was coined by the Finnish Hemipterist, Odo Reuter (1913).  Aphids are not the only insects that are attacked by parasitoid wasps. The action of insect parasites has been known about for over two hundred years.  Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of the more famous Charles, noted that Ichneumonid wasps parasitised cabbage white butterfly caterpillars and so should be encouraged by gardeners (Darwin, 1800).  This is not the only early mention of parasitic insects in this context; Wheeler (1928), points out that back in the 1850s, two Italian entomologists, Camillo Rondani and Vittore Ghiliana also suggested the use of parasitic insects as biological control agents.  Aphid pests of glasshouse crops originally controlled mainly by predators (van Lenteren & Woets, 1988) are now routinely controlled by the application of commercially produced Braconid and Chalcid wasps (Boivin et al., 2012; van Lenteren, 2012).

Three commonly used aphid parasitoid biological control agents in action. Images from http://biologicalservices.com.au/products/aphelinus-2.html and https://www6.inra.fr/encyclopedie-pucerons/Especes/Parasitoides/Braconidae-Aphidiinae/Praon-volucre

When people think of Hymenoptera, they tend to think of bees, Vespid wasps and ants as being the most important and abundant.  They are very much mistaken.  The Parastica, or parasitoid wasps, are, by a huge margin, the most speciose and abundant section of

Parasitoids clearly dominate the Hymenopteran fauna of the British Isles (Many thanks to Natalie Dale-Skey of the NHM for permission to use this).

the Hymenoptera both in the UK and elsewhere

In the tropics the parasitoids are even more dominant. Data from Gaston et al., (1996).

Once parasitized, the egg(s), unless they are encapsulated by the aphid ‘immune’ system, hatch and begin to feed on the internal tissues of their, presumably, unsuspecting aphid host.  The parasitoid larvae avoid feeding on vital parts of the aphid, so that it can continue to grow and develop and provide food for the parasitoid, until the parasitoid is ready to pupate. Once the parasitoid is ready to pupate it delivers the coup de grace putting the aphid out of its misery and allowing the formation of the ‘mummy’ in

The three most common types of aphid mummies.  Images from http://resources.rothamsted.ac.uk/science-stories/aphids-mummies-and-cadavershttp://biologicalservices.com.au/products/aphelinus-2.html and https://farm1.static.flickr.com/327/18532751584_becc0e56e9_b.jpg respectively.

which the parasitoid completes its development before sawing its way out to emerge as a winged adult ready to seek out new hosts, leaving a characteristic neat circular hole in mummy case. In case you were wondering why the mummy of Praon volucre looks like it is sitting on a plate, this because, unlike the other aphid parasitoids, the final instar cuts its way out of the bottom of the aphid and spins its cocoon externally underneath the remnants of the aphid, hence the ‘plate’ (Beirne, 1942).

And out she comes; emerging parasitoid – http://resources.rothamsted.ac.uk/science-stories/aphids-mummies-and-cadavers


Lysiphelbus testaceipes  Photo by J.K.Clark, University of California Statewide IPM Project

Once an aphid, now a hollow mummy; note the neat emergence holes.  Aphid parasitoids are very much tidier than the parasitic lifeform in the classic film Alien 🙂

Another aspect of their life style that makes parasitoids a breed apart from true parasites, is that as well as using aphids as egg laying sites for their larvae, the adults like to snack on them every now and then to help mature more eggs and to keep up their energy levels; sometimes quaintly described as predatism (Flanders, 1953).  Although the parasitoids can make feeding attacks at any time, they appear to feed first and then start laying their eggs (e.g. Collins et al., 1981).

Parasitoids are widely used as biological control agents in glasshouses and other protected environments as they are generally regarded as being more effective than predators (Debach & Rosen, 1991), although there is some support that generalist predators can play a significant part in biological control in the wider environment (Symondson et al., 2002; Gontijo et al., 2015).  That said, aphid parasitoids seem to be fairly host specific in that commercial companies offer specific parasitoid mixtures to control different aphid pest species e.g.  https://www.koppert.com/pests/aphids/product-against/aphipar/ [Note this is NOT an endorsement]. In fact it has been suggested that the relationship between aphids and their parasitoids can be used to clarify aphid taxonomic relationships (Mackauer, 1965). On the other hand, there are very few examples of monophagous aphid parasitoids, most being described as oligophagous (Stary & Rejmanek, 1981).   So given that there is a fair bit of evidence that the parasitoids attacking aphids do show some discrimination in their choice of hosts, how do they find them?

Parasitoids in general were originally thought to be “possessed of an unerring instinct that guided them in their search for hosts” but Cushman (1926) rebutted this idea pointing out that actually the parasitoids first home in on the habitat or food plant that their host lives in and then search for their host (Laing, 1937).   The parasitoids referred to by Cushman and Laing, are however, not parasitoids of aphids, attacking lepidopteran leaf miners and carrion feeding flies respectively, so you might perhaps think that aphid parasitoids could have a different strategy. Although habitat selection by parasitoids of lepidopteran larvae (Thorpe & Caudle, 1938) and sawfly larvae (Monteith, 1955), using olfactory cues of their host’s food plant was confirmed readily easily and early on, the situation with aphids was less clear cut. Manfred Mackauer for example, suggested that aphid parasitoids might be using visual cues, such as leaf deformities or damage to find their aphids hosts (Mackauer, 1965).  The breakthrough came when three cabbage loving entomologists from the USA used an olfactometer to first show that the Braconid parasitoid Diaeretiella rapae, responded positively to the odour of collards (what we in the UK call spring greens) and second to show a very strong preference for them to lay their eggs in the aphid Myzus persicae when it was feeding on crucifers rather than other host plants.  They attributed this to the presence of mustard oil, the chemical that gives cabbages their distinctive taste and suggested that once the aphid host plant was found then the parasitoids used visual cues to find their aphid victims (Read et al., 1970).  Six years later it was firmly established that parasitoids in general used olfactory cues both to locate the habitat of their host (long-range) and then a short-range to find and confirm the identity (contact chemicals) their insect hosts (Vinson, 1976).

It was thought that the aphid parasitoids were chemically ‘conditioned’ during their larval life within the aphid feeding on a host plant and that this influenced their adult host preferences (e.g. Sheehan & Shelton, 1989; Wickremasinghe & Van Emden, 1992).  These, and other similar results, seemed to support the Hopkins host selection principle (Hopkins, 1917) which states that adult preferences are learnt as larvae.  A very neat experiment by van Emden et al., (1996) proved this hypothesis wrong. They transferred aphid mummies from the plant on which they had been parasitized on to another host plant and this changed the preference of the emerging adult, seeming to suggest that this was how aphid parasitoids developed their host preferences.  Now comes the neat, and very tricky part; if however, the parasitoid pupae were removed (very carefully) from the mummy case and reared to adulthood in the absence of a host plant or mummy and kept in a glass tube, the emerging adults showed no preference for particular host plants, clearly showing that adult preferences were  not determined during larval development but ‘conditioned’ by exposure to the external skin of the aphid mummy on emergence (van Emden et al., 1996).  Using aphids reared on an artificial diet (Douloumpaka & van Emden, 2003) showed that the it was very likely that the mother parasitoid leaves a chemical cue in or around the egg(s) she lays and that this is later incorporated into the silk of the parasitoid pupa, thus inducing the host preference seen as an adult.

An additional twist to the story is that male and female parasitoids differ in their responses to odours.  Both sexes of Aphidius uzbekistanicus and A. ervi, parasitoids of cereal aphids in the UK, respond to plant odours, but only females respond to aphids (Powell & Zhi-Li, 1983).  Males of both species are, however, attracted to the odours of their respective females, suggesting the existence of a sex pheromone. The existence of a sex pheromone in aphid parasitoids had been suggested a few years earlier when it was shown that male D. rapae attempted to copulate with filter paper that had had female abdomens crushed on them (Askari & Alisha, 1979).  The existence of sex pheromones in aphid parasitoids has now been shown in several species (e.g. Decker et al., 1993; McNeil & Broduer, 1995).  Strangely, female parasitoids also respond to sex pheromones, but in their case, the sex pheromones of aphids.  It turns out that they ‘parasitise’ aphids in more than one way, they home in on their prey using the aphid sex pheromone and this enables them to find a suitable overwintering host (Hardie et al., 1991).  At other times of the year they also use other aphid indicators; several studies have shown that parasitoids use the presence of aphid honeydew to help them find their hosts (Budenberg, 1990; Bouchard & Cloutier, 1984; Gardner & Dixon, 1985).

Predators of aphids such as ladybirds use chemical markers to warn other ladybirds that they have laid eggs near aphid colonies, thus reducing the chances of cannibalism and competition (e.g. Oliver et al., 2006). Given that the eggs of aphid parasitoids are laid internally, they are in effect invisible, it would make sense if the parasitoids ‘marked’ their hosts in some way to avoid other parasitoids laying their eggs in an already parasitized aphid, superparasitism.  Sure enough, there is some evidence that some adult parasitoids can recognise aphids that already have larval parasitoids developing inside them although they don’t seem to be able to consistently recognise already parasitized aphids until some hours afterward (e.g. Cloutier et al., 1984).  In some cases, it seems that it is the aphid herself that prevents superparasitism by reacting more aggressively towards parasitoids after being attacked once (Gardner & Dixon, 1984) and also by the presence of dried siphuncular secretions on the aphid’s skin (Outreman et al., 2001).  The waxy secretion had an effect for up to a day or so after which the internal changes caused by the developing parasitoid larvae were enough to deter further oviposition attempts.

It is a good thing for the poor aphids that they have such a high reproductive rate, or they would truly be in dire straits.  On the other hand, as exemplified by the words of Jonathan Swift (1733),

“So naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite ’em,
And so proceed ad infinitum

there are parasites of parasitoids, the hyperparasites, that help keep the numbers of parasitoids under control, and thus, indirectly, help aphids remain relatively abundant.



Askari, A. & Alisha, A. (1979) Courtship behavior and evidence for a sex pheromone in Diaeretiella rapae (Hymenoptera: Braconidae), the cabbage aphid primary parasitoid. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 72, 79-750.

Beirne, B.P. (1942) Observations on the life-history of Praon volucre Haliday (Hym.: Braconidae), a parasite of the mealy plum aphis (Hyalopterus arundinis Fab.). Proceedings of the Royal Entomological Society of London, Series A, General Entomology, 17, 42-47.

Boivin, G., Hance, T. & Brodeur, J. (2012) Aphid parasitoids in biological control.  Canadian Journal of Plant Science, 92, 1-12.

Bouchard, Y. & Cloutier, C. (1984) Honeydew as a source of host-searching kairomones for the aphid parasitoid, Aphidius nigripes (Hymenoptera: Aphidiidae).  Canadian Journal of Zoology, 62, 1513-1520.

Budenberg, W.J. (1990) Honeydew as a contact kairomone for aphid parasitoidsEntomologia experimentalis et applicata, 55, 139-148.

Cloutier, C., Dohse, L.A. & Bauduin, F. (1984) Host discrimination in the aphid parasitoid Aphidius nigripes. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 62, 1367-1372.

Collins, M.D., Ward, S.A., & Dixon, A.F.G. (1981) Handling time and the functional response of Aphelinus thomsoni, a predator and parasite of the. Journal of Animal Ecology, 50, 479-487.

Cushman, R.A. (1926) Location of individual hosts versus systematic relation of hots species as a determining factor in parasitic attack. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington, 28, 5-6.

Darwin, E. (1800) Phytologia: or The Philosophy of Agriculture and Gardening. P. Byrne, Grafton Street, London.

Debach, P. & Rosen, D. (1991) Biological Control by Natural Enemies, Cambridge University Press, New York.

Decker, U.M., Powell, W. & Clark, S.J. (1993) Sex pheromone in the cereal aphid parasitoids Praon volucre and Aphidius rhopalosiphiEntomologia experimentalis et applicata, 69, 33-39.

Douloumpaka, S. & van Emden, H.F. (2003) A maternal influence on the conditioning to plant cues of Aphidius colemani Viereck, parasitizing the aphid Mysuze persicae SulzerPhysiological Entomology, 28, 108-113.

Flanders, S.E. (1953) Predation by the adult Hymenopteran parasite and its role in biological control. Journal of Economic Entomology, 46, 541-544.

Gardner, S.M. & Dixon, A.F.G. (1984) Limitation of superparasitism by Aphidius rhopalosiphi: a consequence of aphid defensive behaviour. Ecological Entomology, 9, 149-155.

Gardner, S.M & Dixon, A.F.G. (1985) Plant structure and foraging success of Aphidius rhopalosiphi (Hymenoptera: Aphidiidae).  Ecological Entomology, 10, 171-179.

Gaston, K.J., Gauld, I.D. & Hanson, P. (1996) The size and composition of the hymenopteran fauna of Costa Rica.  Journal of Biogeography, 23, 105-113.

Griffiths, D.C. (1960) The behaviour and specificity of Monoctonus paldum Marshall (Hym., Braconidae), a parasite of Nasonovia ribis-nigbi (Mosley) on lettuce. Bulletin of Entomological Research, 51, 303-319.

Hardie, J., Nottingham, S.F., Powell, W. & Wadhams, L.J. (1991) Synthetic aphid sex pheromone lures female parasitoids.  Entomologia experimentalis et applciata, 61, 97-99.

Harrington, R. (1994) Aphid layer. Antenna18, 50-51.

Hopkins, A.D. (1917) Contribution to discussion.  Journal of Economic Entomology, 10, 92-93.

Holler, C. (1991) Evidence for the existence of a species closely related to the cereal aphid parasitoid Aphidius rhopalosiphi De Stefani-Perez based on host ranges, morphological characters, isoelectric focusing banding patterns, cross-breeding experiments and sex pheromone specificities (Hymenoptera, Braconidae, Aphidiinae. Systematic Entomology, 16, 15-28.


Laing, J. (1937) Host-finding byinsect parasites 1. Observations on the finding of hosts by Alysia manducator, Mormoniella vitripennis and Trichogramma evanescensJournal of Animal Ecology, 6, 298-317.

Mackauer, M. (1965) Parasitological data as an aid in aphid classification. Canadian Entomologist, 97, 1016-1024.

McNeil, J.N. & Brodeur, J. (1995) Pheromone-mediated mating in the aphid parasitoid, Aphidius nigripesJournal of Chemical Ecology, 21, 959-972.

Monteith, L.G. (1955) Host preferences of Drino bohemica Mesn. (Diptera; Tachnidae) with particular reference to olfactory responses.  Canadian Entomologist, 87, 509-530.

Oliver, T.H., Timms, J.E.L., Taylor, A. & Leather, S.R. (2006) Oviposition responses to patch quality in the larch ladybird Aphidecta obliterata (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae): effects of aphid density, and con- and heterospecific tracks. Bulletin of Entomological Research, 96, 25-34.

Outreman, Y., Le Ralec, A., Plantegenest, M., Chaubet, B, & Pierre, J.S. (2001) Superparasitism limitation in an aphid parasitoid: cornicle secretion avoidance and host discrimination ability. Journal of Insect Physiology, 47, 339-348.

Powell, W. & Zhi-Li, Z. (1983) The reactions of two cereal aphid parasitoids, Aphidius uzbekistanicus and A. ervi to host aphids and their food-plants.  Physiological Entomology, 8, 439-443.

Reuter, O.M. (1913). Lebensgewohnheiten und Instinkte der Insekten (Berlin: Friendlander).

Stary, P. & Rejmanek, M. (1981) Number of parasitoids per host in different systematic groups of aphids: The implications for introduction strategy in biological control (Homoptera: Aphidoidea; Hymenoptera: Aphidiidae). Entomologica Scandinavica, Suppl. 15, 341-351.

Riley, W.A. (1931) Erasmus Darwin and the biologic* control of insects. Science, 73, 475-476.

Sheehan, W. & Shelton, A.M. (1989) The role of experience in plant foraging by the aphid parasitoid Diaeretiella rapae (Hymenoptera: Aphidiidae).  Journal of Insect Behavior, 2, 743-759.

Symondson, W.O.C., Sunderland, K.D., & Greenstone, M.H. (2002) Can generalist predators be effective bicontrol agents? Annual Review of Entomology, 47, 561-594.

Thompson, W.R. (1930) The principles of biological control. Annals of Applied Biology, 17, 306-338.

Thorpe, W.H. & Caudle, H.B. (1938) A study of the olfactory responses of insect parasites to the food plant of their host.  Parasitology, 30, 523-528.

Van Emden, H.F., Spongal, B., Wagner, E., Baker, T., Ganguly, S. & Douloumpaka, S. (1996) Hopkins’ ‘host selection principle’, another nail in its coffin.  Physiological Entomology, 21, 325-328.

Van Lenteren, J.C. (2012) The state of commercial augmentative biological control: plenty of natural enemies, but a frustrating lack of uptake. BioControl, 57, 1-20.

Van Lenteren, J.C. & Woets, J. (1988) Biological and integrated control in greenhouses.  Annual Review of Entomology, 33, 239-269.

Vinson, S.B. (1976) Host selection by insect parasitoids.  Annual Review of Entomology, 21, 109-133.

Wheeler, W.M. (1922). Social life among the insects: Lecture II. Wasps solitary and social. Scientific Monthly, 15, 68-88.

Wheeler, W.M. (1928) Foibles of Insects and Men.  Alfred Knopf, New York

Wickremasinghe, M.G.V. & Van Emden, H.F. (1992) Reactions of adult female parasitoids, particularly Aphidius rhopalosiphi, to volatile chemical cues from the host plants of their aphid prey. Physiological Entomology, 17, 207-304.

*This is how he spelt it; not a mistake on my part J



Filed under Aphidology, Aphids

Not all aphids have the same internal biomes

Headline message for those of you too busy to read the whole thing

Aphids have mutualistic symbiotic bacteria living inside them, one set, the primary endosymbionts, Buchnera aphidicola are obligate, i.e. in normal circumstances, the aphid can’t live without them and vice versa. All aphids have them. The others, the secondary symbionts, of which there are, at the last count, more than seven different species, are facultative, i.e. aphids can survive without them and not all aphids have them or the same combination of them. These can help the aphid in many ways, such as, making them more resistant to parasitic wasps, able to survive heat stress better and helping them use their host plants more efficiently. Hosting the secondary symbionts may, however, impose costs on the aphids.

Now read on, or if you have had enough of the story get back to work  🙂

Like us, aphids have a thriving internal ecology, they are inhabited by a number of bacteria or bacteria like organisms. The existence of these fellow travellers and the fact that they are transmitted transovarially, has been known for over a hundred years (Huxley, 1858; Peklo, 1912)*, although their role within the body of the aphids was not entirely understood for some time, despite Peklo’s conviction that they were symbionts and transferred via the eggs to the next generation. Some years later the Hungarian entomologist László Tóth** hypothesised that aphids because the plant sap that they feed on did not contain enough proteins to meet their demands for growth, must be obtaining the extra nitrogen they needed from their symbionts, although he was unable to prove this empirically (Tóth, 1940). This was very firmly disputed by Tom Mittler some years later, who using the giant willow aphid, Tuberolachnus salignus, showed that aphid honeydew and willow phloem sap contained the same amino acids (Mittler, 1953, 1958ab). It was not only aphidologists who were arguing about the nature and role of insect symbionts, as this extract from a review of the time makes clear,

It is not our purpose here to harangue on terminology; suffice it to say that we will use “symbiote” for the microorganism and “host” for the larger organism (insect) involved in a mutualistic or seemingly mutualistic association.” (Richards & Brooks, 1958).

Interestingly it is in this paper that they mention, using the term “provocactive” the use of antibiotics to create aposymbiotic individuals in attempts to prove that the symbionts were first bacteria, and second, benefiting their insect hosts. The concluded that there was enough evidence to suggest that the endosymbionts were involved in some way in the nutritional and possibly reproductive processes of the insects studied, mainly cockroaches. At the time of the review no similar work had been done on aphids. A few years later though, two American entomologists sprayed aphids with several different antibiotics and found that this caused increased mortality and reduced fecundity when compared with untreated ones (Harries & Mattson, 1963). Presaging its future dominance in aphid symbiont work, one of the aphids was the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum. Antibiotics were also shown to eliminate and damage the symbionts associated with Aphis fabae followed by impaired development and fecundity in the aphid itself adding yet more evidence that the symbionts were an essential part of the aphid biome (Ehrhardt & Schmutterer, 1966). There was, however, still much debate as to how the symbionts provided proteins to the aphids, and although light and electron microscopy studies confirmed that the symbionts were definitely micro-organisms (Lamb & Hinde, 1967; Hinde, 1971), the answer to that question was to remain unanswered until the 1980s although the development of aphid artificial diets (Dadd & Krieger, 1967) which could be used in conjunction with antibiotic treatments, meant that it was possible to show that the symbionts provided the aphids with essential amino acids (Dadd & Kreiger, 1968; Mittler, 1971ab).*** Although the existence of secondary symbionts in other Homoptera was known (Buchner, 1965), it was not until Rosalind Hinde described them from the rose aphid, Macrosiphum rosae, that their presence in aphids was confirmed (Hinde, 1971).   Of course it was inevitable that they would then be discovered in the pea aphid although their role was unknown (Grifiths & Beck, 1973). Shortly afterwards they were able to show that material produced from the symbionts was passed into the body of the aphid (Griffiths & Beck, 1975) and it was also suggested suggested that it was possible that the primary symbionts were able to synthesise amino acids (Srivastava & Auclair, 1975) and sterols (Houk et al., 1976) for the benefit of their aphid hosts (partners). By the early 1980s it was accepted dogma that aphids were unable to reproduce or survive without their primary symbionts (Houk & Griffiths, 1980; Ishikawa, 1982) and by the late 1980s that dietary sterols were provided by the primary symbionts (Douglas, 1988).


Primary symbiont (P) in process of dividing seen next to secondary symbionts (S) and mitochondrion (m) from Houk & Griffiths (1980).

Despite the huge amount of research and the general acceptance that the endosymbionts were an integral part of the aphid’s biome “The mycetocyte symbionts are transmitted directly from one insect generation to the next through the female. There are no known cases of insects that acquire mycetocyte symbionts from the environment or from insects other than their parents” (Douglas , 1989), their putative identity was not determined until 1991 (Munson et al., 1991), when they were named Buchnera aphidicola, and incidentally placed in a brand new genus. Note however, that like some aphids, B. aphidicola represents a complex of closely related bacteria and not a single species (Moran & Baumann, 1994). Research on the role of the primary symbionts now picked up pace and it was soon confirmed that they were responsible for the synthesis of essential amino acids used by the aphids, such as tryptophan (Sasaki et al., 1991; Douglas & Prosser, 1992) and that it was definitely an obligate relationship on both sides**** (Moran & Baumann, 1994).

Now that the mystery of the obligate primary endosymbionts was ‘solved’, attention turned to the presumably facultative secondary symbionts, first noticed more than twenty years earlier (Hinde, 1971)***** began to be scrutinised in earnest. Nancy Moran and colleagues (Moran et al., 2005) identified three ‘species’ of secondary bacterial symbionts, Serratia symbiotica, Hamiltonella defensa and Regiella insecticola. As these are not found in all individuals of a species they are facultative rather than obligate. The secondary symbionts were soon shown not to have nutritional benefits for the aphids (Douglas et al., 2006). They are instead linked to a whole swathe of aphid life history attributes, ranging from resistance to parasitoids (Oliver et al., 2003; 2005; Schmid et al., 2012), resistance to heat and other abiotic stressors (Montllor et al., 2002; Russell & Moran 2006; Enders & Miller, 2016) and to host plant use (Tsuchida et al., 2004; McLean et al., 2011; Zytynska et al., 2016).

And finally, Mittler (1971b) mentions the reddish colouration developed by aphids reared on some of the antibiotic diets and hypothesises that this may be linked to the symbionts. I have written earlier about aphid colour variants and the possibility that the symbionts may have something to do with it. The grain aphid, Sitobion avenae has a number of colour variants and it was suggested that levels of carotenoids present might have something to do with the colours expressed and that in some way this was controlled by the presence of absence of symbionts (Jenkins et al., 1999). More recently Tsuchida and colleagues in a series of elegant experiments on the ubiquitous pea aphid, have shown that the intensity of green colouration is dependent on the presence of yet another endosymbiont, a Rickettsiella (Tsuchida et al., 2010). The authors hypothesise that being green

Pea aphids colour

Elegant demonstration that in some strains of the pea aphid, green colour is a sign of an infection by Rickettsiella (Tsuchida et al., 2010).

rather than pink or red, may reduce predation by ladybirds as has been suggested before (Losey et al., 1997).

New secondary symbionts continue to be discovered and with each discovery, new hypotheses are raised and tested. It would seem that there is a whole ecology of secondary symbionts within the aphid biome waiting to be explored and written about (Zytynska & Weisser, 2016). What are you waiting for, but do remember to come up for air sometime and relate what you find back to the ecology of the aphids 🙂



Buchner, P. (1965) Endosymbiosis of Animals with Plant Microorganisms. Interscience, New York.

Dadd, R.H. & Krieger, D.L. (1967) Continuous rearing of aphids of the Aphis fabae complex on sterile synthetic diet. Journal of Economic Entomology, 60, 1512-1514.

Dadd, R.H. & Krieger, D.L. (1968) Dietary amino acid requirements of the aphid Myzus persicae. Journal of Insect Physiology, 14, 741-764.

Douglas, A.E. (1988) On the source of sterols in the green peach aphid, Myzus persicae, reared on holidic diets. Journal of Insect Physiology, 34, 403-408.

Douglas, A.E. (1998) Mycetocyte symbiosis in insects. Biological Reviews, 64, 409-434.

Douglas, A.E. & Prosser, W.A. (1992) Sythesis of the essential amiono acid trypthotan in the pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum) symbiosis. Journal of Insect Physiology, 38, 565-568.

Douglas, A.E., Francois, C.M.L.J. & Minto, L.B. (2006) Facultative ‘secondary’ bacterial symbionts and the nutrition of the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum. Physiological Entomology, 31, 262-269.

Ehrhardt, P. & Schmutterer, H. (1966) Die Wirkung Verschiedener Antibiotica auf Entwicklung und Symbionten Künstlich Ernährter Bohnenblattläuse (Aphis fabae Scop.). Zeitschrift für Morphologie und Ökologie der Tiere, 56, 1-20.

Enders, L.S. & Miller, N.J. (2016)Stress-induced changes in abundance differ among obligate and facultative endosymbionts of the soybean aphid. Ecology & Evolution, 6, 818-829.

Griffiths, G.W. & Beck, S.D. (1973) Intracellular symbiotes of the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum. Journal of Insect Physiology, 19, 75-84.

Griffiths, G.W. & Beck, S.D. (1975) Ultrastructure of pea aphid mycetocystes: evidence for symbiote secretion. Cell & Tissue Research, 159, 351-367.

Harries, F.H. & Mattson, V.J. (1963) Effects of some antibiotics on three aphid species. Journal of Economic Entomology, 56, 412-414.

Hinde, R. (1971) The control of the mycetome symbiotes of the aphids Brevicoryne brassicae, Myzus persicae, and Macrosiphum rosae. Journal of Insect Physiology, 17, 1791-1800.

Houk, E.J. & Griffiths, G.W. (1980) Intracellular symbiotes of the Homoptera. Annual Review of Entomology, 25, 161-187.

Houk, E.J., Griffiths, G.W. & Beck, S.D. (1976) Lipid metabolism in the symbiotes of the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum. Comparative Biochemistry & Physiology, 54B, 427-431.

Huxley, T.H. (1858) On the agamic reproduction and morphology of Aphis – Part I. Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, 22, 193-219.

Ishikawa, H. (1978) Intracellular symbionts as a major source of the ribosomal RNAs in the aphid mycetocytes. Biochemical & Biophysical Research Communications, 81, 993-999.

Ishikawa, H. (1982) Isolation of the intracellular symbionts and partial characterizations of their RNA species of the elder aphid, Acyrthosiphon magnoliae. Comparative Biochemistry & Physiology, 72B, 239-247.

Jenkins,  R.L., Loxdale, H.D., Brookes, C.P. & Dixon, A.F.G. (1999)  The major carotenoid pigments of the grain aphid Sitobion avenae (F.) (Hemiptera: Aphididae).  Physiological Entomology, 24, 171-178. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-3032.1999.00128.x/pdf

Lamb, R.J. & Hinde, R. (1967) Structure and development of the mycetome in the cabbage aphid, Brevicoryne brassciae. Journal of invertebrate Pathology, 9, 3-11.

Losey, J. E., Ives, A. R., Harmon, J., Ballantyne, F. &Brown, C. (1997). A polymorphism maintained by opposite patterns of parasitism and predation. Nature, 388, 269-272.

McLean, A.H.C., van Asch, M., Ferrari, J. & Godfray, H.C.J. (2011) Effects of bacterial secondary symbionts on host plant use in pea aphids. Proceedings of the Royal Society B., 278, 760-766.

Mittler, T.E. (1953) Amino-acids in phloem sap and their excretion by aphids. Nature, 172, 207.

Mittler, T.E. (1958a) Studies on the feeding and nutrition of Tuberolachnus salignus (Gmelin) (Homoptera, Aphididae). II. The nitrogen and sugar composition of ingested phloem sap and excreted honeydew. Journal of Experimental Biology, 35, 74-84.

Mittler, T.E. (1958b) Studies on the feeding and nutrition of Tuberolachnus salignus (Gmelin) (Homoptera, Aphididae). III The nitrogen economy. Journal of Experimental Biology, 35, 626-638.

Mittler, T.E. (1971a) Dietary amino acid requirements of the aphid Myzus persicae affected by antibiotic uptake. Journal of Nutrition, 101, 1023-1028.

Mittler, T.E. (1971b) Some effects on the aphid Myzus persicae of ingesting antibiotics incorporated into artificial diets. Journal of Insect Physiology, 17, 1333-1347.

Montllor, C.B., Maxmen, A. & Purcell, A.H. (2002) Facultative bacterial endosymbionts benefit pea pahids Acyrthosiphon pisum under heat stress. Ecological Entomology, 27, 189-195.

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Schmid, M., Sieber, R., Zimmermann, Y.S. & Vorburger, C. (2012) Development, specificity and sublethal effects of symbiont-conferred resistance to parasitoids in aphids. Functional Ecology, 26, 207-215.

Srivastava P.N. & Auclair, J.L. (1975) Role of single amino acids in phagostimualtion, growth, and survival of Acyrthosiphon pisum. Journal of Insect Physiology, 21, 1865-1871.

Tóth, L. (1940) The protein metabolism of aphids. Annales Musei Nationalis Hungarici 33, 167-171.

Tsuchida, T., Koga, R. & Fukatsu, T. (2004) Host plant specialization governed by facultative symbiont. Science, 303, 1989.

Tsuchida, T., Koga, R., Horikawa, M., Tsunoda, T., Maoka, T., Matsumoto, S., Simon, J. C. &Fukatsu, T. (2010). Symbiotic bacterium modifies aphid body color. Science 330: 1102-1104.

Zytynska, S. E. &Weisser, W. W. (2016). The natural occurrence of secondary bacterial symbionts in aphids. Ecological Entomology, 41, 13-26.

Zytynska, S.E., Meyer, S.T., Sturm, S., Ullmann, W., Mehrparvar, M. & Weisser, W.W. (2016) Secondary bacterial symbiont community in aphids responds to plant diversity. Oecologia, 180, 735-747.



*I should point out that although Huxley clearly described the structure and contents of the mycetocytes he had absolutely no idea what they were and what function, if any, they had. Despite the many authors who supported Peklo’s claim that the contents of the mycetocytes were bacteria he was still having to defend himself against detractors more than 50 years later (Peklo, 1953).

Peklo, J. (1953) Microorganisms or mitochondria? Science, 118, 202-206.


**not to be confused with the László Tóth who vandalised Michelangelo’s Pietà

***interestingly, although the existence of primary symbionts in aphids and their possible role in aphid nutrition was by then firmly established, my vade mecum as a student, Tony Dixon’s Biology of Aphids, makes no mention of them at all, although first published in 1973. The first edition of Aphid Ecology (1985) also by Tony Dixon, only devotes three quarters of a page to them, but by the second edition, published in 1998, they get a whole chapter to themselves.

Buchnera appears to have been ‘lost’ but replaced by a yeast like symbiont (Braendle et al., (2003).

Braendle, C., Miura, T., Bickel, R., Shingleton, A.W., Kambhampari, S. & Stern, D.L. (2003) Developmental origin and evolution of bacteriocytes in the aphid-Buchnera symbiosis. PloS Biology, 1, e21. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0000021.


*****although Huxley’s description of the unknown structures that he saw in aphids in 1858, does seem to include secondary symbionts as well as the primary ones.



Filed under Aphidology, Aphids

Entomological classics – The insect olfactometer

In 1924, Norman McIndoo (1881-1956) an entomologist at the Fruit Insect Investigation Department in the USDA Bureau of Entomology based in Washington DC was instructed by his boss Dr. A.L. Quaintance, to make a study of insect repellents and attractants.   After two years of frustrated experimentation McIndoo invented a piece of apparatus that would revolutionise the study of insect behaviour, the Y-tube olfactometer (McIndoo, 1926) . He freely admitted in his paper that he had borrowed the name from the Zwaademaker olfactometer (Zwaademaker, 1889) a device used to test the sense of smell in humans.  As you can see however, his apparatus bore no resemblance to that of Zwaademaker.

Zwaardemaker olfactometer    McIndoo olfactometer

McIndoo ‘s apparatus was first used to find out whether Colorado potato beetles (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) responded to the odour of the potato plants. The beetles were placed in a dark bottle in a light-tight box, the bottle being attached to the stem of the Y-tube by a tube through which the beetles were able to move, at first being attracted to the light. Once they reached the junction of the Y they then had to make a choice between the two forks this time using their sense of smell. A pump was used to draw air from the two forks, one of which was connected to a jar containing a potato plant, the other which held the control substance. In theory, once at the fork the beetles were confronted with two streams of air, one smelling of potato, the other being odourless. McIndoo was indeed able to show that about 70% of the beetles responded positively to the odour produced by the potatoes. He also showed that the beetles responded to extracts made from the foliage of a number of different host plants.  He briefly mentions in the paper that the beetles were able to tell the opposite sex by smell and that the males would follow sexually mature females. He had accidentally discovered insect sex pheromones but did not realise it at the time. In the last part of his paper he provides data showing that other insect species, including Lepidoptera, were also able to respond to host plant odours.  The Y-tube olfactometer and the closely related T-tube olfactometers soon became the accepted way to test insect response to odours and are widely used in laboratories around the world to this day, for example http://weslaco.tamu.edu/research-programs/entomology/subtropical/behavior/ and http://sciencebykathy.wordpress.com/

Two way olfactometer


They do however have some limitations; there is a tendency for turbulence to occur at the junction of the Y- and T-tubes which means that there is some mixing of the test odours and this means that there is not a clearly delineated odour field into which the insects can enter, leave and re-enter if they so wish. In 1970, Jan Pettersson from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences at Uppsala, invented the four-way olfactometer with which to test the existence of a sex pheromone in the aphid Schizaphis borealis (Pettersson, 1970).

Pettersson 4 way   Pettersson 4 way 1

The four-way olfactometer provides a neutral central zone which is surrounded by four very distinct odour boundaries which the test insects can enter, sample the odour and then either stay or leave and move into another area of the apparatus. Louise Vet and colleagues (Vet et al., 1983) from the University of Leiden added some modifications to the original Pettersson version, with which to study the behaviour of aphids and their parasitoids.

Vet 4 way

 The four-way olfactometer, whether a Pettersson or Vet version, or a modification of the two, is now regarded as the ‘gold’ standard and is used very widely around the world.

Four way - Indian


It is certainly our research group’s favoured version and we use it for testing the responses of aphids, hymenopteran parasitoids, lepidoptera and beetles to a range of odours (Trewhella et al., 1997; Leahy et al., 2007; Pope et al., 2012). We are currently using mini-versions to test the olfactory responses of predatory mites. Watch this space.


Leahy, M.J.A., Oliver, T.H., & Leather, S.R. (2007) Feeding behaviour of the black pine beetle, Hylastes ater (Coleoptera: Scolytidae). Agricultural and Forest Entomology, 9, 115-124. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1461-9563.2007.00328.x/full

McIndoo, N.E. (1926) An insect olfactometer. Journal of Economic Entomology, 19, 545-571

Pope, T.W., Girling, R.D., Staley, J.T., Trigodet, B., Wright, D.J., Leather, S.R., Van Emden, H.F., & Poppy, G.M. (2012) Effects of organic and conventional fertilizer treatments on host selection by the aphid parasitoid Diaeretiella rapae. Journal of Applied Entomology, 136, 445-455. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1439-0418.2011.01667.x/full

Pettersson, J. (1970). An aphid sex attractant I Biological studies. Entomologia Scandinavica 1: 63-73.

Sanford, E.C. (1891) Laboratory course in physiological psychology. American Journal of Psychology, 4, 141-155, http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Sanford/course2.htm

Trewhella, K.E., Leather, S.R., & Day, K.R. (1997) The effect of constitutive resistance in lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and Scots pine (P. sylvestris) on oviposition by three pine feeding herbivores. Bulletin of Entomological Research, 87, 81-88. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=2497592

Vet, L.E.M., Van Lenteren, J.C., Heymans, M., & Meelis, E. (1983) An airflow olfactometer for measuring olfactory responses of hymenopterous parasitoids and other small insects. Physiological Entomology, 8, 97-106. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-3032.1983.tb00338.x/abstract

Zwaademaker, H. (1889) On measurement of the sense of smell in clinical examination. The Lancet, 133, 1300-1302



Filed under Entomological classics, EntoNotes, Uncategorized