The Mummy – Aphids and Parasitoid Wasps

2 Sep
The remains of a parastized aphid mummy complete with wasp larva escape hatch.

The remains of a parastized aphid ("mummy") complete with parasitoid escape hatch.

My labmate Collin found mummies in his aphid colony.  It was kind of exciting, although maybe not up to horror movie standards.  Mummies are what happen to aphids when a parasitic wasp injects them with an egg.  As the wasp larva grows inside their bodies, feeding on their hosts, the still living aphids swell into pale, bloated, unmoving forms on the leaf surface.  Eventually, adult wasps burst from their hosts, leaving behind the kind of gruesome sight pictured above.

Close up of cotton aphid (Aphididae) feeding on cotton leaf.

Close up of cotton aphid (Aphis gossypii) feeding on a cotton leaf.

For comparative purposes, here are pictures of a healthy, live aphid, as well as the shed skin of an aphid following a molt.  For a frame of reference these guys are about a millimeter or two long.

The shed skin of a cotton aphid (Aphis gossypii).

Cotton aphid exuvia (cast off exoskelton) on a cotton leaf.

Special thanks to Collin McMichael for helping me with the digital microscope photography.  And thanks also to someone who featured a how to on manual focus stacking in photoshop a while back.  I cannot find this post again for the life of me.  There was a picture of an ant with a parasitoid I think.  It was awesome.  I have been wanting to try this technique for a while, so it was fun to experiment.  I should probably get a shot with the legs in better focus in the future.

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