Scientists looking at the method in which a species on aphids in eastern Asia mend their homes have discovered a surprising technique. These aphid colonies use their young as tiny soldiers. The young aphids must sacrifice their bodies to fix the home.
The Patching Chemistry of Aphids
The findings of the new study are reported in an April 2019 publication of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. One of the scientists involved in the work was Takema Fukatsu, an evolutionary biologist and entomologist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, which is located in Tsukuba, Japan.
The aphid colonies examined belong to the Nipponaphis monzeni species. It was observed that the aphids had a well-coordinated ready response for the attacks by predators such as caterpillars. These predators commonly bite holes into the home of the aphids in search for their next meal of insects. The young aphids, known as soldiers, must use their internal white goo to repair the hole formed in the colony’s home. As a result of this, they inevitably dry up and die. This interesting patching chemistry mechanism has been observed in aphid colonies living in Asian winter hazel trees.
Aphid Immune-like Protection
Researchers now understand that the sacrifice of the aphid youngsters in this way can be looked at as the colony’s own version of an immune system, with the young aphids acting as immune system cells. Depending on the damage done by the predator, thousands of aphids may be required to patch up the hard shell of the gall where the aphids live.
The response of the young soldiers takes place very quickly. They are wingless and swollen with fluids. As soon as an intruder is detected, they swarm to the scene of the incident. The intruder, which could be a caterpillar, is encircled and stung, while the remaining aphids focus on repairing the hole created. This saves the entire colony from further harm.