Spotted Alfalfa Aphid

Download 222K pdf file ("622-17.pdf")PDF
     Subscribe to our free E-Newsletter, "Agri-News" (formerly RTW This Week)Agri-News
This Week
 Damage | Description and life history | Biological control | Resistant varieties | Chemical control

The spotted alfalfa aphid, Therioaphis maculata Buckton, was first found in the United States about 1953 and in Alberta in 1979. This species of aphid can be more serious on alfalfa than the pea aphid because it not only sucks out the juice but it also injects a toxin into the plant.


Early symptoms of spotted alfalfa aphid damage to alfalfa include vein clearing of newly emerging leaves. As feeding continues, veins may whiten and the remaining areas of the leaf turn yellow. Eventually leaves die and fall from the plant.

The aphids suck juice from the phloem of leaves and stems and inject a salivary toxin that damages the plant. This toxin can cause a yellowing and stunting of entire mature plants. Leaves will drop off the plants from the ground upward. Young plants of susceptible cultivars are often killed by the aphid. Various sooty mould fungi may develop in the honeydew. Fungal growth on the honeydew causes a reduction in hay palatability and quality.

Figure 1. Leaf damaged by the spotted alfalfa aphid.
Figure 1. Leaf damaged by the spotted alfalfa aphid.

Description and Life History

The spotted alfalfa aphid is pale yellow, with six rows of raised dark spots, each with a spine, along its back. The aphid is small, about 1-1.5 mm long. Adults may be winged or wingless (Figure 2 and 3). The winged forms have smoky areas along the wing veins. The aphid prefers to feed on the lower portion of the plant and on the underside of the leaves.

Figure 2. Winged spotted alfalfa aphid.Figure 3. Wingless spotted alfalfa aphid
Figure 2. Winged spotted alfalfa aphid.
(Photo: John Jackman, Texas A&M University)
Figure 3. Wingless spotted alfalfa aphid

The spotted alfalfa aphid is relatively tolerant of heat and does well at temperatures of 27C. At that temperature development from birth to adult takes less than a week. There are many generations of the aphid a year as adults reproduce without mating and give birth to living young during spring and summer. Adults and eggs overwinter in some regions but only eggs appear to overwinter in colder areas.

Biological Control

Predators, parasites, and fungi are important in controlling aphid pests in alfalfa. Ladybird beetles and nabid bugs, Nabis alternatus, play a major role in aphid control. Many other insects also feed on aphids. These include the green lacewing, Chrysopa oculata, the minute pirate bug, Orius tristicolor, the big eyed bug, Geocoris bullatus, and larvae of the syrphid flies, Scaeva pyrastri and Eupeodes volucris. An Entomophthora fungus and the parasite, Trioxys complanatus, are also important in controlling the aphid in the United States, but have not been found on it in Canada.

Resistant Varieties

The most important control method for the spotted alfalfa aphid is the use of aphid-resistant cultivars. Some recently released alfalfa cultivars are resistant to aphids.

Chemical Control

Insecticides for the control of the spotted alfalfa aphid should be applied before the plants are severely damaged. All directions and precautions listed on the insecticide label, especially those concerning the use of alfalfa for forage, must be followed.

Insecticide recommendations may change from one year to the next. Producers planning to spray a crop with insecticide should check with the newest edition of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry's Crop Protection (the Blue Book), Agdex 606-1, for the latest insecticide recommendations.

Prepared by:
A.M. Harper, Agriculture Canada Research Station, Lethbridge

Source: Agdex 622-17. Revised January 2017.
Share via
For more information about the content of this document, contact Scott Meers.
This document is maintained by Jennifer Rutter.
This information published to the web on April 1, 2001.
Last Reviewed/Revised on January 3, 2017.