Standing on the shoulders of giants: Young aphids piggyback on adults when searching for a host plant

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Background: Upon the detection of imminent peril, pea aphids (Acyrthosiphon pisum) often drop off their host plant. Dropping in response to insect enemies is intermittent in nature, but when a mammalian herbivore feeds on their host plant, a large mixed-age group of aphids usually drops off the plant at once. Aphids that reach the ground are confronted with new, hostile environmental conditions and must therefore quickly walk toward a suitable host plant. The longer it takes an aphid to reach a host plant, the more it is exposed to the risks of starvation, desiccation and predation. Results: We found that young nymphs, which have limited mobility and high mortality on the ground, quickly climb on conspecific (not necessarily parental) adults and cling to them before the latter start walking in search of a plant. This "riding" behavior is likely to be adaptive for the nymphs, for it shortens their journey and the time they spend off a host plant. Adults however, seem to be irritated by the riding nymphs, as they often actively try to remove them. Conclusions: After dropping from the host plant, young aphid nymphs travel at least part of the way back to a plant on the backs of adults. For the riding behavior to take place, nymphs need to successfully find adults and withstand removal attempts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number49
JournalFrontiers in Zoology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 6 Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s).


  • Hitchhiking
  • Host location
  • Parent-offspring conflict
  • Parental care
  • Phoresy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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