- Woolly Alder Aphid (Prociphilus tessellatus)
Who doesn’t love fluffy small white things? The quantity of humans walking maltese, bichon frise and pomeranian dogs around cities I think confirms this. I imagine as a small girl I could have created this insect and placed it in a creative world full of funky creatures. These insects might as well be flying tufts of fluff pinched from a cotton ball, or cottonwood fruit capsules that belong in a Dr Suess book. But they are none of those things, they are the Woolly Alder Aphid, Prociphilus tessellatus!
At certain times of spring there are enough cottonwood seed pods flying through the air that it’s probably a good thing these insects don’t fly around in hoards, otherwise we might think it was extreme local snowing.
Wingless as larvae they move along the stem and leaves of silver maple and alder trees feeding on the sap. When adults, which are winged they become covered in the white fluff which is actually wax!
I couldn’t resist rolling the back of my finger amongst their gorgeous hair-do. It felt nothing like wax, but more so the softest strand of cotton, almost weightless. This substance is produced in their colonies.
Well so what do the host trees think of these fluff balls? Well they actually have two hosts, one for the juvenile primary host a silver maple, when adults, they feed on alder, and then returning back to the maple in the fall. While leaves can succumb to their infestation and die, in general hosts are unfazed. However humans can become annoyed if a large infestation inhabits a host, say above a tree, garden, or picnic table. In this situation the waxy filaments can be a nuisance.We spotted them along a quiet trail with minimal but regular traffic, and I don’t foresee that being an issue with our floofs.
The adults I found to be a little less common, but just as fluffy and adorable, especially if you can catch them in flight.
I hope you too may one day observe these magical little fluffy dudes. If you have the time watching the larval stage move while quite slow, it sure is a treat to see the adults fly through the air like small fairies!
What I read while researching: