Wash Their Mouths Out With Soap

Mar 25, 2016

We're not the only ones "celebrating" the first week of spring. The oleander aphids are doing a happy dance on our milkweed plants. We think they're doing a mixture of the tango, cha-cha-cha, salsa and merengue. Every time we walk past them, we see a population explosion with even more incredible dance moves. In population size, they went from a family reunion to an army of aphids to an international conference. Y'all come.

These are yellow, pear-shaped insects, about 1.5 to 2.6mm long, with black cornicles.  They congregate on the tender young shoots and suck the very life out of them.

Now it's our job to suck the very life out of the aphids before the monarch butterflies return. There are many ways to do this. We sometimes pick them off, squishing them between our fingers.  Or we invite lady beetles (aka ladybugs) and soldier beetles to pick them off--but sometimes they're not around to accept our invitations.

Actually we prefer to wash their mouths out with soap. Fill a spray bottle with a gallon of water, add a teaspoon of liquid dishwasher and spray away. The aphids are goners.  Some folks add a pinch of cayenne pepper for good measure. Probably makes them more lively when they dance the salsa?

Today when we checked our milkweeds, the population had dwindled down to one aphid. Just one. A one-delegate conference with no flashy moves. It takes two to tango.

Related Links:
For information on how to control aphids, check out the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program's website.

For information on rearing monarchs, including recommended ways to rid your milkweed of those pesky aphids, these Facebook pages are quite helpful:

The Beautiful Monarch
Public group administered by Holli Webb Hearn
"The Beautiful Monarch group was created to teach members how to raise and properly care for the monarch butterfly from egg to flying adult along with learning about their predators, diseases and other monarch facts. It is my hope that as a collective group we will help and teach one another along with any new members that join us."

Raising Butterflies and Moths for Conservation (+All Pollinators)
Closed group monitored by Mona L. Miller (apply to join)
"Our focus is the preservation and protection of North American butterflies, moths and pollinators, particularly the Monarch Butterfly.")