L ITTLE Nim Fay had been drinking sap for forty-eight hours, and she did not seem to be thirsty for a while. She was only a few minutes more than two days old, and had taken a rather long drink for one so young. She had been standing all that time in one place on the stalk of a water plant, and she had been standing with her head down. She did that quite naturally, the first time she tried.
Nim Fay, of course, was an insect. No other kind of animal could have acted the way she did. The manners of insects, as you may have noticed, are apt to be queer.
Not being thirsty for the moment, Nim Fay pulled her beak out of the plant. There were three long bristles that she could push out from her mouth. She could suck juicy sap through her mouth parts somewhat as you can sip lemonade through a straw.
Perhaps the reason Nim Fay was not thirsty was that she could hold no more. Her skin was tight. Her plump little body was squeezed inside of it. She needed to molt.
This was the first time she had ever shed her skin. Her mother and more than forty older sisters and a great many aunts and a great many more cousins were on the same plant at the time, but not one of them helped her. Her mother and aunts were drinking sap. So were her sisters and cousins, except those who were busy shedding their own skins.
However, the little two-day-old insect did very well by herself. She shrugged and wriggled until the tight covering ripped at the back like an old, thin dress. Inside of the stiff, torn covering was Nim Fay in a fresh, new, stretchy skin. All she needed to do now was to pull herself free. So she jerked her head out of the old mask, and she tugged her six legs out of their leggins. Then she walked to a place on the plant not far from her mother and sisters and other relatives, and rested.
Nim Fay, the aphid, and her relatives, lived on an arrowhead plant that grew in the pond.
Before long she was thirsty again. Molting had been rather tiring and she needed food. So she stood on the stalk with her head down and pressed the tip of her beak into the plant. This time she drank for about four days before she stopped to molt and rest.
When Nim Fay was twelve or fourteen days old, she had molted four times. She was now full-grown and was about one-twelfth of an inch long. She had no wings. In this she was unlike most full-grown insects. However, her mother and grandmother were both wingless, and so were all her relatives in the summer colony about her.
As she could not fly, Nim Fay stayed at home on her water plant. She drank sap minute after minute, hour after hour, and day after day. This was rather a dull sort of life, but she did not mind. She did not even seem to notice what went on in the air around her or in the water underneath.
Once the stalk of her plant was pulled under water by a frog that sat on the leaves. Nim Fay did not drown. Her little body was covered with waxy powder, and the water did not harm her. She had tiny wax pores in her skin, and the wax came through the pores and kept her body powdered.
When the frog jumped off the leaves, the stalk went up with a jerk that threw Nim Fay on the water. She did not sink. The wax on her body was a help to her. She could not really swim, but she walked across the water a little way. Then she came to the plant and walked up the stalk. She was not even wet.
Some of the rest of the colony were not so fortunate. While the stalk was under water, a little turtle swam near and swallowed a few of the insects. A fish saw some of them in the water and ate several, wax and all. A nearly grown tadpole helped himself to as many as he wanted. At the time, a bird with a forked tail was flying low over the water. He saw a plump, juicy insect moving, and caught it as he flew. Accidents like that are likely to happen to insects living near a pond.
Nim Fay's oldest daughter, Fay, fed herself sap when she was very tiny, just as her mother had done. Like her mother, also, she molted when she became too plump for her skin. But in one way she was different. She had four tiny wing-pads on her shoulders. Inside each wing-pad a wing was growing. The last time she molted, she pulled her wings out of the pads. They were rather wrinkled at first, but in a few minutes they were smooth and flat. They were dainty little wings, and thin and clear.
It was while Fay was standing on the tip of a leaf waiting until she was ready to fly that some people came down to the pond from Holiday Farm. There were several boys and girls who were spending the summer in the country, and an uncle who often came to see them.
The children had a new game that summer. They were trying to find a plant or an animal that their uncle did not know. So they pointed to a plant with broad leaves and lovely wax-white blossoms, and asked to be told its name. This, their uncle explained, was named "arrowhead" because its large leaves are shaped like the head of an arrow. Among its roots are tubers which are good to eat. Sometimes they grow to be as large as the eggs of hens. Indians, who used to gather such tubers late in the fall, liked to broil or roast them for a feast.
In the northwestern part of our country the Indian name for the plant was "wapatoo." Wapatoo Island and Wapatoo Valley were so named because the arrowhead grew in abundance in those places.
Cows like to eat the leaves, and often wade into the water for them. Fishes, called carp, devour the tubers so greedily that arrowhead plants soon disappear from places where there are any carp.
Like many other water plants, the arrowhead has two kinds of leaves. Those that grow under water are long and narrow. The plant breathes by means of these narrow leaves until it grows tall enough to push its broad, arrow-shaped ones above the water.
An arrowhead leaf and blossoms.
The arrowhead has also two kinds of blossoms, as the children from the farm saw for themselves. While their uncle was telling them about the plant, they waded into the water to look at it.
Just then one of the boys saw Fay at the tip of her leaf.
"Here, Uncle Ned," he called, "is something too tiny to have a name. Why, it is not much bigger than nothing at all! You don't know what that is, do you, now?"
The boy grinned. He thought it would be a good joke if he could find an insect so small that even his uncle did not know what it was.
Uncle Ned looked at the colony of small, reddish brown and greenish, wingless insects feeding on the stalk of the plant. Then he looked at little Fay. Her tiny wings were trembling. He liked a joke as well as the youngsters, so he, too, grinned.
"Well," he said, "about one hundred and seventy-five
years ago a famous Swedish naturalist saw a colony of
insects like that feeding on a water lily, and he
Aphis nymphaeae, which is a Latin
name. If you like an
English name better, you may call your tiny insect a
At that very minute little Fay lifted her quivering wings and flew away.
Good-by to Arrowhead! Fay was ready to fly to a plum tree.
"Where is it going?" the children asked.
"To a plum tree at Holiday Farm," Uncle Ned told them.
"Then let's race and get there first," said one of the boys, and off they ran.
Of course little Fay, the water-lily aphid, did not know she was racing. But when she reached a plum tree, she stopped. She had not even noticed the oak trees or the elms or the maples or the pines. But there was something about a plum tree she could not resist. This seems rather strange, for she had never seen a plum tree before in her life. Neither had her mother. Neither had her grandmother.
They had spent all their lives on arrowheads.
But in the spring her great-grandmother, or perhaps it had been her great-great-grandmother, had grown up on a plum tree. She had drunk plum sap and thrived on it. When she molted the last time, she had thin, dainty wings. She was a spring migrant.
Now, as you know, migrants go on journeys. In the spring, swallows and humming birds and many other birds leave tropical countries and fly north. Alewives and shad and some other fishes swim out of the sea and into rivers and lakes. The migrant aphid on the plum tree had her spring journey, too. She flew to the pond and stopped on an arrowhead. A water lily would have done just as well, but she happened to find an arrowhead first.
Later in the season the swallows and humming birds fly south again. Alewives and shad swim back to sea. So perhaps it was natural for little Fay to stop when she came to a plum tree. Maybe the leaves smelled so good to her that she could not fly past them.
Nobody knows how Fay found her plum tree, but find it she did. There is no doubt about that. It suited her exactly. She plunged her beak into the tender part of a twig and drank plum juice. She felt no need of anything different. Having grown up on a water plant, she was quite content to pass the rest of her life on a plum tree. So it happened that Fay never took another flight. She had used her wings to carry her from the pond to the orchard, and that was far enough.
In the spring aphids of this kind live in colonies on plum leaves.
Fay's large family of daughter aphids liked plum juice, too. They thrived on it and grew and molted, as young aphids should. They never had any wings, not even after they had shed their skins for the last time. As they were all satisfied with the plum tree, they did not need to fly.
All of Fay's daughters looked alike, and they all acted the same way. Little Apter was the oldest, so of course she molted first and became a full-grown aphid before her sisters did. She was about twenty days old when she molted the last time.
One day, while wingless Apter was waiting on the plum tree, an aphid with wings came to meet her. It was Alate, her mate, and he had flown all the way from the arrowhead in the pond to the plum tree.
Apter and Alate were rather busy for several days. It was getting late in the season, and their eggs must be made ready for winter. There was no nest to make, or anything of that sort, but Apter needed to find the right places to tuck her eggs.
On the branches of the tree, there were some small, scale-like buds that would not grow until the next spring. There were some tiny nooks and corners around these buds just the right size for aphid eggs. Of course Apter found one of these chinks for each of her eggs. She put one egg in a place and poked it in with a bit of sticky glue.
At first Apter's eggs were shiny green, but in a few days they became black as jet and stayed that way all winter.
Little Apter really did something very important when she glued her eggs to the plum twig. The nights were getting colder. Frosts would come. Leaves would fall. Sap would stop running in the plum tree. The ice would be deep on Holiday Pond. Arrowhead plants would be buried under snow. There would be no sap in all the frozen north for an aphid to drink.
But it did not matter. Apter's eggs were high and dry on the plum twig. The winter winds would blow, but they could not loosen the glue that held the eggs. The winter nights would be cold, but not cold enough to kill the tiny bits of life in Apter's eggs.