Even Bugs are Going Green

Aphids on the underside of a leaf

Aphids, the scourge of many a gardener, may be the first insect found to use photosynthesis (in addition to wrecking your lettuce). It seems a bit greedy to eat up all of my tomato plants if you can still make energy just basking on the shriveled remains of my plants. Photosynthesis is the process of generating chemical energy from light energy derived from the sun. This puts aphids in the category of the most advanced organisms using photosynthesis including sea slugs and salamanders. In addition, plants, algae and some bacteria have been known to use this process to fuel their energy needs.

Aphids are small insects that feed on a great number of plant species. They have been shown to make their own carotenoids, molecules necessary for oxidation control or light detection. This is the first animal known to make it’s own carotenoids and not require them from their diet.

A new article in Nature shows very early evidence that aphids are using these carotenoids to generate chemical energy from the sun’s light energy. While the evidence is still preliminary, aphids could turn out to be much more than just plant sap suckers. It still doesn’t make me feel any better about my garden.