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When you poop sugar, clone yourself and give birth to pregnant babies, you know your survival skills are off the hook...and that you must be an aphid.

Hosted by: Hank Green
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[SciShow Intro plays]

Hank: If you've ever kept a garden, You're probably familiar with aphids Sometimes called plant lice, They're hoards of tiny soft-bodied insects swarming your rose bushes and killing your green beans. But, they also do some stranger things to help themselves survive. Things like pooping sugar and cloning themselves and giving birth to pregnant babies.

The over 4,000 plus members of the aphiditae family infest plants all over the world and lots of people think of them as pests. Because Aphids suck. Literally. They use their long slender mouth parts Which work kind of like a straw surrounded by needles to pierce tender plant stems and suck sap from the plant.

That sap is a plant's energy source. So, a large colony of aphids can damage or even kill a plant by sucking it dry. Not only that, but when an aphid taps into a stem, it injects a tiny bit of saliva, and can transmit potentially deadly viruses between plants. They're basically like the mosquitoes of the plant world.

Now plant sap is almost all sugar, so aphids need to eat a lot of it in order to get enough other nutrients, so they end up with way more sugar than they actually need. So much more, in fact, that they actually poop syrup. Technically, it's called honeydew and lots of insects go totally nuts for it, unsurprisingly. Some species of ants actually set up a kind of farm, managing large colonies of aphids, to get their honeydew fix. It's a sweet deal for both species because the aphids get ant bodyguards to protect them from predators. Because if you taste like a jellybean, you're gonna attract some attention from things that wanna eat you.

But the aphids don't just rely on the ants to protect them, they have a few defensive tricks of their own. Their main survival strategy seems to be making a lot of babies, and they're especially good  at it because the females are parthenogenetic, meaning that they can reproduce asexually. Instead of waiting to mate with a male in the spring and summer months, a mama aphid can cook up a whole bunch of clone daughters inside of her.

Now, parthenogenesis is pretty common among insects but lady aphids have another reproductive shortcut: they give birth to live young, sometimes up to a dozen nymphs a day. This way the aphids don't have to wait for the eggs to develop and hatch and the next generation is quickly up and running. And in some species, all of those daughter nymphs are actually already carrying more daughter embryos. In other words, some aphid babies are born pregnant! Babies having babies! An aphid mom could be carrying her daughters and granddaughters at the same time!

Nymphs that are born pregnant still need to mature to the adult stage before they can give birth, but development can take as little as a week in good conditions, so tens of generations of aphids can spawn in just a couple months. Sometimes though, the aphids environment changes, and good food becomes scarce. In that case, and therefore have a better chance of finding a new place to live.

Most aphids are wingless, which makes sense, it takes a lot of energy to build a decent pair of wings, and since most aphids spend their whole lives just on a single plant, they get around just fine by walking. But if their plant starts to die or gets too crowded, some female aphids can start giving birth to offspring with wings.

Winged aphids aren't great flyers, but they usually don't need to travel very far, and once they find a new host plant, they'll start a whole new colony. As lush plants start to naturally wither in autumn, some aphids start producing both female and male offspring, so then the aphid colony can start reproducing sexually again.

In some species, these sexually viable males and females don't even have mouth parts for eating, their only job is to make babies. The aphids mate, and lay hardy, fertilized eggs that can survive through the winter on host plants. The following spring, those eggs hatch to produce wingless females, and the whole plant-killing, sugar-pooping, rapid-reproductive-cycle frenzy fires up again. So, it's no wonder that aphid infestations are so common, they got some crazy survival skills.

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...And they wriggle around inside of you like a worm, While the bug probes around for blood vessels Once it finds one, blood gets sucked up through the...