Potato aphids are considered a medium-sized aphid. Some members of this species have wings, while others do not. Wingless aphids are 1.7 to 3.6 mm long, while winged forms are 1.7 to 3.4 mm long. Potato aphids are spindle or pear-shaped. They have soft bodies, long, dark antennae, and a pair of cornicles, or tubes at the end of their abdomen. They can be green, pink, or magenta, with reddish eyes. Nymphs are covered in a grayish-white wax, but look like small adults. Wingless adults are usually shinier than nymphs. (Boquel, et al., 2011; Kaplan and Thaler, 2012; Petrovic-Obradovic, 2010; Stoetzel, 1994; van Emden and Harrington, 2007)
Potato aphids (Macrosiphum euphorbiae) are native to North America; they are widespread across the United States and Canada. They have spread from the Nearctic region to the Palearctic, Ethiopian, and Neotropical regions. They are now found almost worldwide, including Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and Australia. Potato aphids are a major crop pest. (Finlayson, et al., 2009; Le Guigo, et al., 2012; Raboudi, et al., 2011; Stary, et al., 1993; Valenzuela, et al., 2009)
Potato aphids colonize over 200 different species of host plants throughout mild and tropical areas. Their host plants, such as potatoes and many other crop species are found mostly in agricultural fields, as well as grasslands and suburban areas such as greenhouses, gardens, and parks. (Le Guigo, et al., 2012; Petrovic-Obradovic, 2010; van Emden and Harrington, 2007)
Potato aphids go through four developmental stages, known as nymphal instars. Each nymphal instar lasts 1.5 to 3 days, although the amount of time they take to develop varies with temperature. Potato aphids take about 6 to 12 days to completely mature. (Alyokhin, et al., 2011; Boquel, et al., 2011; De Conti, et al., 2011; Macgillivray and Anderson, 1964)
Sexually reproducing potato aphids are only found in North America. In the rest of their range, potato aphids only reproduce by parthenogenesis, which means that they reproduce by creating identical clones without mating. Egg-laying females produce a pheromone to attract male mates. The pheromone is released by a gland on their hind legs; females lift their legs to release the pheromone. (Alyokhin, et al., 2011; Boquel, et al., 2011; Goldansaz and McNeil, 2006)
Populations in North America reproduce by both parthenogenesis (reproducing without mating) and sexual reproduction. In these populations, eggs spend the winter on their primary hosts, usually on rose plants (Rosa), and hatch in May. In the spring, potato aphids produce several wingless, parthenogenetic offspring while colonizing their primary host. Later, winged females are produced; the winged offspring colonize secondary host plants in June and July. Potato aphids colonize over 200 secondary host plant species, though they typically prefer nightshade plants (Solanaceae). Parthenogenesis continues on the secondary host until the fall, at which time males and breeding females are produced. Males and breeding females return to the primary host plant species, mate, and lay eggs that overwinter. Most potato aphids reproduce only by parthenogenesis; these populations never have a sexual reproductive stage. Wingless females likely spend the winter on primary host plants in warmer regions and produce winged females that colonize secondary hosts later in the season. One female can give birth to anywhere from a few to 50 offspring in a single day. Nymphs reach reproductive maturity after about 6 to 12 days. (De Conti, et al., 2011; Lamb, et al., 2009; Raboudi, et al., 2011)
In populations that breed sexually, eggs are laid on a primary host plant to overwinter, which gives the offspring a food source when they hatch in the spring. Females also provide nutrients in the eggs. Females invest a large amount of energy to give live birth by parthenogenesis. Offspring produced by parthenogenesis join the colony at birth, so they may actually interact with their parents, although they do not receive any parental care. (Macgillivray and Anderson, 1964; van Emden and Harrington, 2007)
Adult potato aphids typically live for about 10 days to a month. (Kaloshian, et al., 1997)
Like all aphids, potato aphids live in large colonies. These colonies can grow to large sizes quickly because they give live birth by parthenogenesis, which cuts out the time needed to find a mate, and their offspring mature quickly. Colonies can be established when winged aphids fly from primary to secondary host plants. However, aphids are weak fliers, so they often move on air currents and have little control over the direction they travel. Wingless aphids can also travel by walking from one plant to another. Potato aphids are active during the day. (Boquel, et al., 2011; Narayandas and Alyokhin, 2006; Pompon, et al., 2010a)
Their home range has not been reported, but it is limited by their poor flight ability. Winged forms are mostly carried by air currents, so where they end up can be fairly random. Unwinged potato aphids travel by walking, although they probably do not walk further than other nearby plants. (Boquel, et al., 2011; Narayandas and Alyokhin, 2006; Pompon, et al., 2010a)
Antennae are the main sensory organs used by aphids. Antennae are used for chemical detection and touching. To determine if a plant is a good host, potato aphids use their antennae to feel along the leaves and detect odors and other chemical cues. Potato aphids also use their mouthparts to dig into plants. They may also pick host plants based on their color. Potato aphids are also able to detect UV light. Other insects use UV light for flying; however, aphids are very weak flyers, so they probably use the UV light differently, possibly to help orient themselves, or to choose where to colonize. Aphids that are captured or harassed produce an alarm pheromone that alerts other aphids of danger. The alarm pheromone usually causes aphids to try to escape by dropping off the host plant or walking away. Alarm pheromones also increase parthenogenetic production of winged aphids. Sexually reproductive females produce a pheromone that attracts mates. (Goldansaz and McNeil, 2006; Kaplan and Thaler, 2012; Legarrea, et al., 2012; Pompon, et al., 2010a)
Potato aphids feed on a plant tissue known as phloem. They use their mouthparts to pierce the plant and access the phloem. This aphid species can feed on over 200 different plants species, many of which are crops. Their most notable host plants include those from family Solanaceae, particularly potatoes and tomatoes and plants from family Brassicaceae, including cabbage and lettuce. Potato aphids also consume sap when they are dehydrated. (Atamian, et al., 2013; Le Guigo, et al., 2012; Legarrea, et al., 2012; Pompon, et al., 2010b)
Potato aphids are often hunted by lady beetles, including multicolored Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis), seven-spotted ladybugs (Coccinella septempunctata), convergent lady beetles (Hippodamia convergens), spotted lady beetles (Coleomegilla maculata lengi), three-banded lady beetles (Coccinella trifasciata perplexa), and 14-spotted ladybird beetles (Propylea quatuordecimpunctata). Other predators include carabid beetles (Pterostichus melanarius), which occur in potato ecosystems, as well as other predators, such as spiders, syrphid flies, green lacewings, and midge larvae. To defend themselves, potato aphids release an alarm pheromone. The alarm pheromone alerts other colony members of a threat and causes them to try and escape by dropping off the host plant or walking away. European red ants (Myrmica rubra) tend some potato aphid colonies. Ants protect aphids from predators and parasitoids in exchange for honeydew produced by the aphids. (Alvarez, et al., 2013; Alyokhin, et al., 2011; Finlayson, et al., 2009; Kaplan and Thaler, 2012; van Emden and Harrington, 2007)
Potato aphids are found around most of the world and are important crop pests. They colonize over 200 different host plant species. Their primary hosts are usually members of genus Rosa. Their preferred secondary hosts are potatoes, though potato aphids feed on other plant species from family Solanaceae as well. Other significant host plants include tomatoes, lettuce, and plants from family Brassicaceae, such as cabbage. Potato aphids have bacteria that live inside their bodies and make the amino acids they cannot get from their food. European red ants tend colonies of potato aphids. Ants eat the honeydew aphids produce; in return, ants protect, clean, and transport the aphids. Potato aphids are prey to lady beetles and many other insect species, such as syrphid flies and green lacewings. Many species of wasp parasitoids lay eggs inside aphids, which causes aphids to die when the wasp hatches. These wasp species can be used to control aphid populations. Fungi from genus Entomophthora can cause disease and death in potato aphids. (Alyokhin, et al., 2011; Atamian, et al., 2013; Boquel, et al., 2011; Finlayson, et al., 2009; Francis, et al., 2010; Le Guigo, et al., 2012; Legarrea, et al., 2012; Lins, et al., 2013; Petrovic-Obradovic, 2010; Thi, et al., 2013)
Potato aphids are one of the most harmful aphid species in the world. They feed on many plant species and cause significant crop damage in potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, and cabbage. These aphids also spread plant diseases, including viruses such as yellow net virus, pea leaf roll virus, and potato leaf roll virus. (Legarrea, et al., 2012; Raboudi, et al., 2011; van Emden and Harrington, 2007)
There are no known positive effects of potato aphids on humans.
Potato aphids have no special conservation status.
Angela Miner (author), Animal Diversity Web Staff, Elizabeth Wason (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.
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