Conifer Aphids

Giant Conifer aphid?
Location: Washington County MD, tree farm on mountain
January 25, 2011 12:06 pm
This year we found the prettiest tree we’ve ever dressed up for Yule, a Fraser Fir, at our beloved cut-it-yourself Christmas Tree farm.
By the beginning of January we began to notice what we thought at first were mosquitoes in the house. But they didn’t sting, and after a week or so we discovered hundreds of them, some dead, & some dying or just lethargic, under the tree and all along the window ledges. Finally I did some research and took some photos. I’ve concluded they are aphids, but not sure they are conifer aphids, as their abdomens are not round and shiny, and every last one of them we’ve seen has wings. (I thought they only had 2 wings until I got a look at the silhouette photo on a large screen- they have 4!) They look more like a shot you have of a Giant Willow Aphid, but I think they are smaller (see my shot with the Sharpie for size).
The tree farm has many different species of evergreens, and is bounded by wild hedgerows and forests. This tree came from close to an edge, where there’s a creek.
The tree, BTW, shows zero evidence of damage, and is still drinking water nearly at the end of January, down to about a cup a day. (We like to stretch the season as far as it will go :^)
We are sad the bugs were awakened/born at the wrong time of year to survive, as they are harmless and clearly just want to go outside…but with temps in the teens, that’s a dead end.
Signature: Ms.Muffet

Giant Conifer Aphid

Dear Ms. Muffet,
Thanks for your wonderful letter.  We are rushed this morning and we really wanted to post your letter and photos, but we will have to do research and supporting links at a later time.  First we want to say that a tree is much more than a tree.  It is an ecosystem.  We do not mean to imply that you should not have a living tree for the holidays, especially since Christmas Tree farms help to drive the economy in a positive way, but when a living tree of any kind is cut, more than the tree dies.  Sometimes birds are forced to abandon a nest with fledglings left to die as they are too young to fly.  We are talking about trees in general and not just Christmas Trees.  Homeowners who decide to cut a tree should realize the consequences of their actions.  Developers rarely think of the environment when they destroy native open spaces to make room for hideously ugly housing developments or strip malls.  Swamps are viewed as wastelands instead of the thriving ecosystems that exist because of the natural environment.  Enough.  We step down from the soapbox now.
We will verify that these are Giant Conifer Aphids when we have a moment after work.  Aphids are amazingly complex creatures.   Females are able to reproduce parthenogenically without males, but they only produce genetic clones of themselves in vast quantities, which is why Aphids can be so problematic on cultivated roses and other plants.  The winged forms of Aphids are the sexually reproductive generation.  Often the winged forms are different from the earlier asexual forms.  We hope we have whetted your curiosity and that we have not offended you with our rant in the paragraph above.

Giant Conifer Aphid

Update: We believe your Giant Conifer Aphids in the genus Cinara match this individual on bugGuide rather closely.

Dear Daniel,
Thank you for your wonderful reply!  I am not at all offended, I couldn’t agree with you more. I have a giant soapbox of my own I use for the same subject.  :^)  Our own land is literally a nature sanctuary, on a “wildlife superhighway” that lines a waterway.  I don’t even prune a tree without great care and respect, let alone cut one down, and I fight for dead trees to remain standing too, since they house whole civilizations! We follow the ancient habit of bringing a real tree indoors in winter and keeping lights aglow to keep alive the emotional connection to the sun’s warmth and the web of life it supports, through the dark, cold, seemingly desolate times. We don’t do it casually but with great reverence. I think it’s a northern-climate human instinct as deep as our marrow, and that’s why it endures. For the same reasons, we do all we can to avoid robbing any creature of its life or home in the process. In my 55 years, I’d never seen this phenomenon with an evergreen.  I have indeed learned a lot about aphids in the last few days and am really fascinated and amazed. I will be looking into ways of preventing a repeat of the situation in the future. Once again, many thanks for your tremendous help in appreciating the miracles all around us.
Ms. Muffet

Giant Conifer Aphid on a Sharpee

Hi again Ms. Muffet,
We finally got around to posting your photo of a Giant Conifer Aphid on a Sharpee.  We always have our photo students use a Sharpee on RC prints, but a nice #2 pencil on Fiber Based paper is best.  Tell me Ms. Muffet, do you think people would want to take a Community College PHoto Class with me for $36 a unit?  I am going to explore teaching an online class, but that takes a year to get through curriculum.  LACC could offer a course in Digital Macro Photography of Nature and the best students can have galleries on What’s That Bug.  Though we teach digital photography classes, we do not have an online curriculum developed yet.   I would like your permission to use your photo of a Giant Conifer Aphid found on the yule tree grown in Washington County Maryland.

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