• Kirk Mason

Squishy and Squirmy Assassin of Aphids?

It is no secret that flies are often misunderstood and suffer from poor public relations. The larval form of flies, often called maggots, take this lack of appreciation one step further! Despite their poor public image, the larvae of flies provide us many services such as: processing stinky rotting vegetation and animals, medical therapy, pest control and even help us solve crimes!

Hoverfly larvae police our gardens and crops, devouring the sworn enemy of farmers and gardeners – aphids. Pesky sap-sucking aphids feed on garden plants and crops, sometimes transferring diseases. This gives aphid predators a surprisingly large economic and personal value to many people globally.

Hoverfly larvae aren’t the most mobile insects, so female hoverflies must carefully choose a suitable place to lay eggs. Larvae that hatch nearby a colony of aphids have a much higher chance of survival. Females have been observed laying higher number eggs laid when higher densities of aphids are present – clever girls!

If you look a little closely at each of the images you will aphids or evidence of aphids. You might notice that they are quite tricky to find, so it’s no surprise that the larvae hunt mostly via sense of smell. It’s thought that hoverfly larvae find aphids via smells produced by aphid honeydew and plants ‘alarm signals’ which have coevolved to attract aphid predators when under attack!

A steady supply of nectar and pollen is important for the adult hoverflies, which require it for the high energy activity of flying and… hovering! Planting native flowering plants that provide food for hoverflies and other pollinators should lead to fewer aphids and is a much nicer alternative to pesticides, which indiscriminately harm other insects such as bees. Native wildflowers in your gardens will also attract hoverflies and other pollinators such as bees and butterflies!

Surprisingly hoverfly larvae are quite understudied, leaving lots to be discovered about these amazing, useful animals.

Perhaps instead of using maggot as a slur, we should start using it to describe useful, but wriggly people instead? 😂🙈

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