People-Biting Aphids: Can Aphids Bite Or Sting You?

by | Aphids, Insects

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If you were trying to get aphids off your plants and felt something sting you, you’re probably here to find out if aphids can bite people. Well, it turns out that…

Aphids can’t bite people, pets, or eat plants because they don’t have a mouth or teeth. But aphids have sharp mouthparts that they use to pierce plants and suck out sap. If an aphid thinks you might be a plant or feels threatened, the aphid could pierce your skin with its needle-like mouthparts.

Though aphids can pierce your skin much like a mosquito can, it really doesn’t happen very often. When it does happen, it feels like the aphid is biting or stinging you, but aphids don’t have teeth for biting or a stinger that can sting you (like bees and wasps).

Most people who get pierced by aphids are researchers who work with aphids everyday and those who choose to sit under a snowbell tree (more on that later). Let’s take a look at how to know if you’ve been “bitten” or “stung” by an aphid.

Signs you’ve been bitten or stung by an aphid

Photo of green aphids walking on a person's hands

The only way to be sure that an aphid has gotten you is if you see the aphid on your skin making direct contact when you feel the stinging sensation. If you don’t see it happen, you will never know if it was an aphid, a biting thrip, a flea, or any of the many other biting insects.

Most gardeners that are stung by an aphid say it happened while working in the garden or trying to remove aphids with bare hands from a plant or tree. But some aphids can fly, and they might fly or use the wind to float onto you or your clothes (which is one of the many ways aphids can get into your house or greenhouse).

Aphids will only “bite” you if they feel threatened by you and they are protecting their colony or if your hand smells like a plant and they want to do a taste test. They use their long antennae to smell you – click here to find out how to identify aphids on your plants and trees.

People have reported getting a bumpy red rash, swollen skin, and becoming itchy from aphid bites, though there’s very little research on what types of aphids can bite and what damage they might cause, if any. I did a lot of research when writing this post and I couldn’t find any reports of long-term damage or pain from an aphid bite.

Researchers know that one type of aphid in Taiwan, commonly known as a gall-forming aphid, bites people who sit under snowbell trees, where the aphids like to live and feed. Apparently, the swelling from one of these bites lasts for an hour, but the red rash afterwards can last for up to three days.

Though aphids do carry plant viruses in their body and are known to spread these viruses from plant to plant, aphids cannot pass any virus or disease on to you because you are not a plant.

Pea aphids that bite people

Photo of a green female pea aphid with labels to her long legs and tail-like projections
Adapted from the original image sourced, with thanks, from Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org

Those who say they were bitten by an aphid report that they were the victim of a pea aphid.

Pea aphids are very common across the world, especially in the early summer months. They are either light green or pinkish red. These aphids are often found in large groups or colonies, where every wingless aphid is a female and each female gives birth to up to 100 aphids.

Pea aphids have very long legs, with two tail-like bulges at the back of them. In spring and summer, pea aphids are found on the food they enjoy eating most: peas. During winter, pea aphids hide or lay eggs in clover and alfalfa.

Photo of a pinkish-red pea aphid sitting on a leaf
Adapted from the original image sourced, with thanks, from Jpeccoud

What else do aphids bite?

While many of us know that aphids live mainly on the sweet sap running inside plants and trees, you might not know that some aphids have been known to suck the juices right out of insect eggs and other live insects – including other aphids.

Researchers have reported seeing aphids using their mouthparts to pierce and suck the liquid out of ladybird eggs, lacewing eggs, and even ant larvae. Aphids are also said to enjoy sucking feeding mites dry. And very often, aphids have been seen sucking the sap right out of other aphids in their colony.

If aphids pierce human skin, insect eggs, other insects, and their own kind, then they might be able to bite dogs and cats too. But dogs and cats have one line of defense we don’t have – fur. Aphids will find it very difficult and probably not worth the effort to find their way through an animal’s fur just to give your pet a quick nibble.

Best products to get rid of aphids

If your backyard or houseplants are plagued by aphids, here are the top recommended products from Amazon to get rid of these pesky insects:

Bonide Ready-to-Use Insecticidal Soap Spray: This is an option for indoor and outdoor plants, including houseplants, citrus, ornamentals, fruit trees, and vegetables. The spray must make contact with the aphids to kill them.

Bonide Rose Spray: Don’t let the name fool you – this spray isn’t just for roses. It kills all life stages of aphids on roses, flowers, potted plants, indoor plants, ornamentals, shrubs, fruits and vegetables, and more. It also kills sooty mold and prevents fungal attacks.

Houseplant Insect Control Granules: These granules can be used on houseplants, flowers and roses, but not on any edibles like fruits and vegetables. The granules are highly recommended for potted plants or plants in containers and raised beds.

Food-Grade diatomaceous earth: Sprinkle this all-natural, organic product on your aphid-infested plant and around the bottom of the plant or tree. When aphids walk over the diatomaceous earth, it cuts them and kills them, yet this is not harmful to humans. Be sure to use this earth when it is dry, and sprinkle more after it has rained.

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MONIQUE

Monique loves gardening and spending time in her backyard, where she grows flowers, succulents, herbs, fruits, and vegetables.

Monique spends a lot of time researching how to protect her backyard from harmful pests and trying to attract beneficial insects and animals.

She shares everything that she learns and tests here at Backyard Pests.

 

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