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Wooly Aphid Adult

Lint Alert

"Blue Fuzzy-Butts" on the Wing

November 10, 2015  |  by Bryan Pfeiffer  |  82 comments  | 

26 October 2020: As you’ll see in comments below, the Lint Alert reports are coming in strong this autumn from British Columbia to New Brunswick, and into northern tier states. I’ll update the post below accordingly.

Here in these naked woods of late autumn, as you kick the leaves and fret the onset of stick season, as warblers and butterflies are all but wistful memories, as you’ve forsaken the season of life in flight, here is your salvation, your lint alert: “Blue Fuzzy-Butts” are on the wing.

If you walk too fast in this late autumn warmth, you may overlook these tiny insects as the fuzz and fluff of the seeds that disperse on the winds. No, those tiny tufts of powder-blue lint aren’t even outcasts from the dryer cycle. They’re hearty autumn insects, the adult form of a woolly aphid species.

On my routine four-mile walk here in Montpelier, I found them drifting beside the North Branch of the Winooski River, floating in a clearing at Hubbard Park, and airborne downtown in front of Kellogg-Hubbard Library.

immature Woolly Aphids on Speckled Alder

We more often see these wingless aphids gathered in a mass on speckled alder, sucking liquids and covered with a waxy white coating resembling cotton or wool (like the photo here).

But now a particular stage of the adult (resembling pale blue lint) is on the wing — and on a mission of reproduction before winter.

But here’s the thing about aphids: they’ve got a crazy-varied-complicated life cycle. You can forget the fairy-tale story of boy meets girl for six-legged sex, with the female laying eggs that hatch into an immature stage, which undergoes some form of metamorphosis to become an adult. No way is that the case with aphids.

Aphids are iconoclasts. Although fuzzy females are now visiting plants and laying eggs that will overwinter like lots of other insects, there is nothing typical about what happens next spring. The aphid life cycles typically include eggs from which hatch only wingless females. They’re parthenogenetic, which means they don’t need males for reproduction. Oh, they’re also viviparous, which means these females bear live young rather than lay eggs (highly unusual among insects). Oh, and they also produce a kind of clone at some point in all this.

Anyway, this male-free reproduction goes on in various incarnations through the summer, until, at long last, some winged males turn up in the cycle and on the scene. At that point, the routine gets a bit more “traditional” — with egg laying, which is what’s happening now — but only until spring when the females emerge to carry on the cycle without any males.

By the way, my partner Ruth, who first showed me airborne woolly aphids, calls them “Blue Fuzzy-Butts.” But please do not confuse them with Fuzzy Butts Doggie Daycare and Grooming in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania, or the Fuzzy Butt Litter Box, which is “the most inexpensive, low odor, environmentally friendly, and easy cat box you’ll ever use.”

For more on all this — the aphids, that is — visit Charley Eiseman’s spectacular blog “Bug Tracks.”

82 comments
  1. Roberta Gatehouse says:

    I have never noticed “Blue Fuzzy-Butts” before. What an intriguing, magical little insect. I’m so glad to discover they are neither invasive nor destructive. It allows me to enjoy them even more. Thanks for the info and the fun blog.

  2. Jenny Grassl says:

    I think they like music. They danced in the air to it, left when it was over.
    In Western Massachusetts

  3. Kathleen says:

    We’ve had them in Prospect, for a few weeks now.

  4. Amanda Doherty says:

    Saw a bunch in Naples maine

  5. Flynn lilly says:

    we got them in bremen maine today

  6. Sara says:

    We have them in Marquette, too! I have lived in the UP for 34 years and this is my first time seeing them. Very cool!

  7. Raevynn says:

    I found some flying around in kinross Michigan. I thought they were super cool but I didn’t know what it was.

  8. Janis Anderson says:

    We got them in Everett, WA today too. Never seen them before!

  9. Kim R Sands says:

    I wish I was as excited to see them. We live in eastern Washington state by a river. We have maple and ash trees. They swarm most of the month of October in our area where you can’t go outside without being covered by them. They are harmless but really annoying. They are most proliferent when the sun is out. They avoid shady areas. They die, maybe after they mate, and leave a blue carpet on the ground. We do inject our ash trees in the spring to help with spring aphids but I don’t think it does anything for the volumes in the fall. Love nature and doing natural/organic gardening but these are over the top for us.

  10. James says:

    Same in Portland SW Hills today.

  11. Amber E Kimball says:

    Saw these for the first time this evening, Southern Oregon Coast. They were clustered around my daughter and I while we were on the porch and we’re still not sure why. Our body heat perhaps?

  12. Mike Scott says:

    Spotted these amazing creatures in Ouray, CO on 10/22 just before the sun dipped below the canyon wall. We were enjoying beers and surprised to see ash in the air until we looked a little more closely. What a cool bug!

  13. Carolyn Thomas says:

    I live in Cambridge, Oh and had 1 land on me. Didn’t know what it was so I googled “flying fuzzy tiny blue/white insect” lol

  14. Brennan says:

    I call them fuzzy fairy bugs- saw them in Bar Harbor, ME and in our back yard in Newcastle, ME, today! Thanks for explaining what they are and their life cycle, too! Very interesting.

  15. Bob says:

    They were out in numbers in Nevada City CA yesterday evening.

  16. Tammy McLain says:

    Well I live in Northern Maine and today my friend who was out walking came to me with this photo of the blue fuzzy bug with wings and said she had scene this bug while out walking . October 23 2020 she has never seen anything like this and now I am hoping I will see one of these cute little bugs . Thought I should tell her story so we can see just how the world is changing lived in Maine my whole life and never scene one like this . I hope our story is of use.

  17. None Given says:

    I just saw my first ones today in easter Ontario. I thought it was snow lol.

  18. Brittney Marinsik says:

    I live a hour north from Sacramento California in the United States, I am 37 years old and have never, never in my life seen these until today. So, I had to Google it and here I am, astonished that there is an answer. If these creatures are a New England bug, I am wondering why are they here or how are they here in California?

  19. Tracy says:

    I call them Fairy Bugs! Ha! I love them. I look forward to them too. In our area the showed up only a couple years ago.

  20. OMG! I can’t believe I actually got an answer! My search criteria to Google was: Tiny blue fly that Hovers, only comes out in the fall in New England! And there it is! Awesome thanks so much!

  21. Lisa says:

    I always call them fairy flies and look forward to seeing them every fall

  22. Audrey says:

    10/16/2020 – Half Moon Bay, CA – just found these beautiful mini creatures performing some airborne dances at sunset right around my pampered avocado. Haven’t seen them ever before, really cute and bumpy – will bump into you often.
    Mother Nature truly is amazing.

    AK

  23. Stefany says:

    I’ve always called them fairies for as long as I can remember because that’s what they look like to me. (: adds a little magic to my day when I see them.

  24. Jann says:

    We got em here in Trinidad, CO! By the tons in early morning and before dusk. We call them “tu-tu’s” because they look like gnats in ballerina gear. But what’s their purpose, their raison d’etre?

  25. Jo MacNeil says:

    We have them by the thousands here in Big Baddeck, NS. They are magical at sunrise and sunset. Their numbers seem to increase exponentially after an autumn rain.

  26. Ann Wetherell says:

    We’ve had the ‘fuzzy-butt bugs’ for years in Portland, OR, and just saw them this last weekend. We know it is really fall when they appear.

  27. Ann Black says:

    Today was a relatively balmy day in Kirkland Lake, Northern Ontario. My neighbour and his daughter came over to ask if I knew what these fuzzy blue flies were. I suspected they were aphids because of the fuzz but couldn’t say for sure. Now I know. They’ve been around for a couple of days now.
    Thanks for the info.

  28. Alex says:

    I just discovered them in Dutch Flat, California (Sierra foothills). Fascinating.

  29. KK Samoranos says:

    I’m seeing these at 5,100 feet elevation in the mixed conifer woods in Susanville, Lassen County, CA. They arrive just before dusk and float in fuzzy-blue above the forest floor. In the evening, they’ll throng around the porch light, so I’ve taken to shutting it off for their safety. First time seeing the blue dancers here but I’m usually gone from September through April. What a delight to experience this!

  30. Caroline says:

    This is the first I’ve ever seen one in my life. 61. And there’s 1 in my back yard in Spencer, Massachusetts (central MA). I followed it because my husband’s grandmother believed in fairies and we live in her house!

  31. Caroline says:

    This is the first I’ve ever seen one in my life. 61. And there’s 1 in my back yard in Spencer, Massachusetts (central MA). I followed it because my husband’s grandmother believed in fairies and we live in her house!

  32. David says:

    We saw them in Jackson, Montana, in the late afternoon on October 9., 2020.

  33. Nancy H says:

    I think we saw them in Val-Morin in the Laurentians too. My daughter says she was bitten by one and that it hurt. Now she’s afraid of them : (

    Is this possible?

  34. Nancy says:

    I think we saw them in Val-Morin in the Laurentians too. My daughter says she was bitten by one and that it hurt. Now she’s afraid of them : (

    Is this possible?

  35. Anne says:

    Tons of the them the last few weeks in the foothills on the front range of Boulder, Colorado! I just love it! They are like little fairies!

  36. Larkin says:

    We saw them last night here in Buena Vista, CO!

  37. Rebecca Reilly says:

    Exact same situation, but in the front range of CO!

  38. Samantha Meister says:

    We too live on the east side of the Gore Range in Colorado. I’ve lived here my entire life and have never seen these critters before. We thought they were ash from a fire that had just started across the valley from us. Until I caught one as it floated by that is, then I realized it was an insect. Thank you for the information and photo!

  39. Rox Corbett says:

    Although I’m a nature watcher and have lived in Quebec and Maine, I never saw these little critters until I moved to northwest Wyoming, and first saw them about 12 years ago. Warm October days, and they’re floating everywhere. Used to call them blue pillow bugs, but I like fuzzy blue butts too. The ones I see look exactly like your photo, so maybe the same species? Thanks for your info: I searched for them online several years ago and found nothing.

  40. paula saraceno says:

    First time I have seen them here. I am on the Gore in Colorado. They are beautiful!

  41. Stella says:

    First time I see these little darlings here in my neck of the woods, Gracefield Quebec, Canada. So cute.

  42. Ellen says:

    Lots of blue/white fuzzy butts swarming around our lilac bush right here on Lake Groton, VT. As cute and minutely fairy like as they are, Avids are not a good thing for the shrub, are they?

  43. mary donnell says:

    there is NO ONE that compares to you, Bryan … thank you for the deeply educated and enticing approach that keeps us enraptured !
    😉

  44. Heather says:

    I first saw these wee creatures in central New Brunswick approximately 10 years ago. The locals call the complete white ones ” snow fleas”. I rather like that and Fuzzy Blue Butt as well.

  45. Gail says:

    While at our cottage in Montpellier, Quebec, Canada today my husband and I were fascinated by these beautiful little creatures floating all around us. W had never seen them before, despite having owned the cottage for 12 years. Thank you for posting all these interesting and informative facts.

  46. Sandy says:

    We used to call them “smelter smoke bugs” cuz they were as thick as the smoke from the smelter. We knew they were aphids, but it’s good to know more about them. Getting pretty thick again this fall in North Idaho. It’s the time of year to wear goggles and keep mouth closed when riding your bike!

  47. Olli Rho says:

    Someone phoned me today from BARRIER B.C. . While we were talking he asked if I had ever seen these” Little Blue Fuzzy bugs ?
    and what the heck are they? Now I know what to tell him.
    Thanks for the info. Barrier is about 1 hr. drive north of Kamloops B.C.

  48. Susy Binstock says:

    We have them also in the Laurentians in Quebec. I had never seen them before.

  49. Norma Milner says:

    Oct 2, 2020. They are here in Hastings, Nova Scotia. First time I have seen them!

  50. Victor says:

    These are cool and tonight was the first time I’ve ever seen them! First fall in NB!

  51. JUDYR says:

    Its Oct2020and they are here in Yellowstone Park. They are just breathtaking.

  52. Samantha says:

    I am in New Brunswick as well Tammy! And there is millions on my property this morning!! Fall has landed I say!

    • Tammy says:

      It really looked like it was lightly snowing this morning there were so many “floating” through the air! Fall is definitely upon us!

  53. Samantha says:

    I have always been fascinated by these “flies”. Here in New Brunswick, Canada, my father and grandfather always called them “deer season flies”. Because they always seam to appear in October, about a week or 2 before our deer season starts here! They are right on time this year! They’re are millions in my yard this morning! And deer season starts in just 2 weeks! Was a great read! I never knew the true name of them, until now! Thank you for posting!

  54. Tammy says:

    Thanks for the info. I was searching to see what looked like snow in the air this morning here in New Brunswick, Canada?!

  55. Jude says:

    Thanks for the info. Found your article while searching for them online. They’re everywhere here while camping outside Troy, Montana.

  56. Lindsay says:

    Same! We are in Eureka, MT And they are EVERYWHERE.

  57. Catherine Reardon says:

    We have A LOT of them right now at our place on Kootenay Lake, British Columbia. So many that we can’t open our mouths for fear of breathing them in! It’s a good thing they are cute or I’d be freaked out.

  58. Kristl says:

    Just saw my first one this morning when it landed on my sweater – in Portland, Oregon. Cute little buggers!

  59. Janelle says:

    Blue Fuzzy Butts…Perfect explanation. Thank you for this article. It helped us very much.

  60. Becky Martin says:

    I Googled “tiny blue insect with white fluff.” Happily, your site popped up. I had never seen this little critter before the other day as I was out walking the dog. Thank you for the information!

  61. Jeffrey J. Allen says:

    Funny, buddy Steve and I were eating lunch outside in Adamant on Monday when we spotted this little guys.
    “What are those”, he says. Say I? “Little Blue Fuzzy Butts”

  62. Michele says:

    Hi!

    This is so amazing! When I lived up in the foothills of the Laurentian’s, in Rawdon Quebec, we used to see clouds of these little guys in the late fall (often when we had a bit of first snow). Or even in the late spring (when we still had snow on the ground). We called them “Snow Flies” because they always seemed to appear “out of the snow”…

    It was always a cool (haha) event!
    Thanks for bring me back there and for the insect lesson!

    Cheers from Canada!
    Michele

  63. From Peterborough NH. says:

    this is a great discovery, Bryan Thanks. We had some hatches in Mad River Valley and Granville last week when I was up in Vermont.

  64. Wooly Alder Aphids are truly amazing. They are hatched on Silver Maples as winged insects that fly to alders to feed, and where they produce wingless clones of themselves (all females) while they feed on the alder sap. We often see these fuzzy clumps, the individuals covered with white waxy fluff extruded through their “skin.” As autumn nears, they will produce winged clones, including some males, that fly off to find Silver Maples and mates. The eggs are laid on the maples, to hatch in spring. While they’re feeding on alders, they are often protected by ants, which “milk” them for their honeydew and fiercely fight off any predators. One of their predators, the Lacewing larva, will infiltrate the clonal cluster, covering its own back with waxy fluff stolen from the aphids. Thus disguised, they will feed on the aphids undetected by the ants, just like the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing. The aphids really do little damage to alders or maples and are truly delightful to observe.

  65. Sue Holmes says:

    I am wondering why I mostly see them after a freeze or Hard frost—then they seem to emerge on sunny days! Are they harmful in any way at any stage?

  66. Ann Cooper says:

    We’ve had swarms of them in Colorado this fall, but I didn’t manage a great p[hoto like the one you shared! Thanks

  67. Rita Pitkin says:

    Don’t remember noticing them befor, but this year I have seen a large “hatch” in Craftsbury and a smaller flock in Wolcott. ❤️ the name! Thanks.

  68. lindawurm says:

    The rest of the clan is fluffing about in western Maine! May I use Ruth’s name for them?Please?

  69. Love it, Brian, & love Ruth’s name for them!

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