Friday, January 28, 2011

Hitchhikers In an Umbrella Tree

Safely sheltered from the snow, life beneath the spreading umbrella tree went on much as it always had, until the Keeper of the Village complained one day that her hair had gotten sticky after brushing against the leaves. 
The leaf of a healthy umbrella tree (Schefflera) looks like this.
But some of the new shoots appeared stunted and warped. A closer look revealed little black spots and sticky goo on their undersides.
Time to bring out the trusty microscope, particularly given that a journal entry was due for the Keeper of the Village's 5th grade science class the next day.

Who would have guessed that a little village of aphids had hitchhiked in when the umbrella tree came indoors for the winter.
There was much to learn, about how the aphids suck the juice from the leaves and expel the extra sugar content out their backsides as little balls of honeydew, how ants harvest the honeydew from aphids like we collect milk from cows, and how ants even go so far as to help the aphids overwinter by storing their eggs under optimal conditions underground, then redistributing them to plants come spring.

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