How to Manage Pests

UC Pest Management Guidelines

Alfalfa

Silverleaf Whitefly

Scientific Name: Bemisia argentifolii

(Reviewed 11/06, updated 11/06)

In this Guideline:


DESCRIPTION OF THE PEST

Silverleaf whitefly adults are tiny (0.06 inch, 1.5 mm long), yellowish insects with white wings. Their wings are held somewhat vertically tilted, or rooflike, over the body and generally do not meet over the back but have a small space separating them. Another species that may be present, bandedwinged whiteflies (Trialeurodes abutiloneus), have brownish bands across their wings.

Whiteflies are found mostly on the undersides of leaves. They fly readily when plants are disturbed. The tiny, oval eggs hatch into a first nymphal stage that has legs and antennae and is mobile. The legs and antennae are lost after the first molt and subsequent stages remain fixed to the leaf surface. The last nymphal stage, often called the pupa or the red-eye nymph, is the stage that is easiest to identify.

Last instar silverleaf whitefly nymphs are oval and yellowish with red eye spots. The edge of the pupae tapers down to the leaf surface and has few to no long waxy filaments around the edge. In contrast, bandedwinged whitefly nymphs have many long waxy filaments around the edge, and the edge is somewhat vertical where it contacts the leaf surface.

DAMAGE

Whiteflies are sucking insects and their feeding removes nutrients from the plant. As they feed, whiteflies produce large quantities of honeydew that reduce alfalfa hay quality because sooty molds (fungi that produce black spores) often grow on honeydew. Sooty molds are not known to harm cattle or horses, but resemble mold from water damaged hay that produce toxins. Hay buyers are not likely to buy moldy looking hay or will discount the price of the hay. Silverleaf whitefly can cause economic damage to alfalfa in the low desert regions of Southern California and Arizona from July through September.

MANAGEMENT

A silverleaf whitefly-resistant alfalfa cultivar (UC-Impalo-WF) is available for use. Research continues to develop cultivars with higher levels of resistance to silverleaf whitefly as well as to bandedwinged whitefly. If insecticides were registered whitefly control in alfalfa, they would not be cost effective. The use of insecticides for whitefly control in alfalfa is not cost effective.

PUBLICATION

[UC Peer Reviewed]

UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines: Alfalfa
UC ANR Publication 3430

Insects and Mites

  • C. G. Summers, Entomology, Kearney Agricultural Center, Parlier
  • L. D. Godfrey, Entomology, UC Davis
  • M. Rethwisch, UC Cooperative Extension, Riverside County (Blythe)
  • D. R. Haviland, UC Cooperative Extension, Kern County
  • P. B. Goodell, Entomology, Kearney Agricultural Center, Parlier
  • R. F. Long, UC Cooperative Extension, Yolo County

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