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Rant #230
(published June 9, 2005)
by Nolan Sen-Snow
I have aphids on my apple tree. This is true. Black aphids tended bygiant black carpenter ants. The aphids inject a necrotic poison intothe leaves of the apple tree, which cause the leaves to curl over,creating protected little tents for aphid colonies to live in. Theants find these aphid colonies. One large soldier ant stands by thecircular opening at either end of the leaf and only allows smallworker ants to pass by. All of the aphids are aligned in long rows,their heads down buried in the leaf, diverting away the sap of theleaf. The aphids excrete a sweet substance called honeydew becausethere is so much sugar in tree sap that their excrement is stillhighly nutritious. The worker ants tend the long lines of aphids,moving systematically down the rows. Others herd the aphids intosmaller patterns. The worker ants gather the honeydew, exiting inlong black lines past the soldier ants, who spend their time testingthe scent of the air with their long antennae.

Lady bugs are natural predators of aphids, but in long cool springslike the one we've been having, lady bugs lie dormant in the groundfor so long that by the time they awake, the aphid colonies arealready well established and defended by ants. I saw a lady bug crawlup the trunk of my apple tree, and out one of the green new limbs(where aphids love to gather because more sap is directed toward newgrowth). But then the lady bug was blocked by the soldier ant. Theworker ants' line coiled around the young limb in order to avoid thestandoff between the soldier and the bright red beetle. Finally,deterred, the lady bug turned around and climbed down off the tree.

Frustrated, I clipped the curled leaf off with garden pruners andtossed it down into the storm drain in my street. There were othercolonies higher up in the tree which i could not reach. I think todayI will get a ladder out and clip them off as well. The aphids weakennew growth very badly, and because apple trees flower and fruit onlast years new growth, the aphids will negatively impact the harvestnext year. Seeing as how I am trying to save this old overgrown appletree, I don't think I can tolerate these little gated communitiesanymore. If clipping doesn't help, I may be forced to introduce anarmy of lady bugs, or worse still, poison.


This, in a way, is what I imagine neo-cons think about when they think about Iran.

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