Tomato Potato PsyllidBack
Tomato potato psyllid (Bactericera cockerelli) is a small sap sucking pest which has only recently been discovered in Australia. Originally from North and Central America it has spread to New Zealand and in early 2017 was detected in Perth, WA. Authorities believe it is not possible to eradicate this pest from WA and it remains to be seen whether quarantine measures will be able to prevent it spreading to other states.
Plants infested with tomato potato psyllid will wilt easily, have stunted growth, reduced yields and yellowing leaves which often curl upwards. There can also be stem dieback. Confusingly these symptoms can be caused by other pests and diseases. To eliminate the possibility of disease look for a white sugar-like coating on foliage. This is excreted by the psyllid which then causes sooty mould to develop. The other trick is to brush the foliage and watch for any jumping/flying insects. Look closely at the insects to confirm they are tomato potato psyllid and not whitefly or plant/leafhoppers.
Tomato-potato psyllids are quite small and mostly congregate on the underside of leaves. Adults are a similar size to aphids (2-3mm) with brownish bodies that have a thin white stripe across the middle and some white markings elsewhere. They have clear wings which are held at a 45 degree angle (kind of like a pitched house roof). The sloping angle of their wings makes them look a bit like miniature cicadas. They will fly short distances if disturbed.
Juveniles are smaller (up to 2mm), a flattish oval shape and wingless. Colour varies with age ranging from yellowy orange to white/pale green. More mature juveniles develop a ring of fine hairs around the edges.
At first glance juveniles can look like scale or whitefly nymphs but if you prod them you’ll find they move a little. Scale and whitefly nymphs don’t move. Also if you use a magnifying glass you’ll see the fringe of hairs around them.
Tomato potato psyllid eggs are less than 1mm and are laid on short stalks on the underside or edge of leaves as well as leaf stems. They are initially white but turn yellow/orange within a few hours of being laid.
Tomato potato psyllids are most active in warmer months and less so in winter.
Overseas the tomato potato psyllid can also carry a bacteria (Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum) which causes a disease known as zebra chip. So far there have been no cases of this in Australia but it is being closely monitored.
Tomato potato psyllid attacks a broad range of plants including: tomatoes, potatoes, chilli, capsicum, tamarillo, goji berry, eggplants and sweet potato. Other plants are vulnerable and mostly fall into either the Solanaceae, Convolvulaceae or Lamiaceae families.
Organic Control Methods for Tomato Potato Psyllid
WA gardeners in Perth – At the first sign of infestation spray plants thoroughly with eco-oil at 5ml per litre. Do a repeat spray 3-5 days later and monitor plants. Remove weeds as many act as hosts for this pest.
Note: eco-oil has an emergency approval (PER84063) for use on this pest but you won’t see it listed on the product label.
WA gardeners outside of Perth – email photos and your contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1800 084 881. Do not spray the plants until it has been further investigated.
Other States/Territories – Currently the tomato potato psyllid has only been detected in WA but if you suspect you have it contact your local government agricultural department for further investigation.