Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Lesson in Fluff

Mystery Fluff
I had been noticing tiny white particles drifting in the air like the white seed pods from our willow trees, but occasionally they would seem to change direction.  I caught a few in insect boxes and identified them under the microscope as woolly aphids of the sub-family Eriosomatinae.

Wooly aphid - Mark Bower
Before removing some fluff
Mark Bower had introduced me to these aphids with his beautiful photographs a few years ago but I wanted a closeup experience.  After a brief chilling in the refrigerator I persuaded them to pose for pictures under the microscope.  As I moved them into different poses with a toothpick I could remove bits of the waxy fluff as seen in this video.

These are plant sucking "true bugs" (Hemiptera).  Many species have only one specific host plant or alternate generations between two different species.  The fluffy larvae feed on the plants and the adults fly to new locations with their eggs to start a new family.  Their slow wandering flight has earned them names such as "angel flies" and "fluff bugs."   Once back out in the sun my specimens took off, slightly lighter but presumably still egg-laden.

Mystery Fluff
Now back to the "Mystery Fluff."  Saturday on an early morning hike through the deep valley at Pickle Springs CA, I found the leaf above.  At first I thought it was a spider egg case or some type of gall but then it moved slightly.  After getting this video I decided to leave it alone to munch away.

Underside view - George Hoffman
I tried to identify it but couldn't come up with a perfect fit so I contacted Bi-State Bugs with a tentative ID of a woolly aphid.  Ilona Lozer quickly came to the rescue with a better choice, a green lacewing debris-carrying larva.  It isn't always what you know but who you know!

This was a little embarrassing as the last blog mentioned lacewing larvae decorating their back, but the green lacewing examples I had found were brown.  Once again color isn't everything.  Now Ilona has introduced me to a great resource, Bugguide's 14 pages of Debris-Carrying Larvae photographs.  Good hunting!

Woolly Aphids from Charley Eiseman
This debris-carrying is nothing new. Evidence of it millions of years ago is preserved in amber as discussed in National Geographic.

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