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Aphidinae : Macrosiphini : Myzus lythri


Identification & Distribution

Adult apterae of Myzus lythri (see first picture below) are light green to yellow. On their secondary hosts the anterior part of the body is frequently brownish, and the posterior parts reddish. The head and first two antennal segments are granular, and the cuticle is wrinkled. The antennae are 0.5-0.6 times the body length, and the antennal terminal process is 2.4-3.0 times the length of the base of the sixth antennal segment. The antennal tubercles are low and the median frontal tubercle is broad. The pale siphunculi are cylindrical, scaly, and 2.3-2.8 times the length of the pale tongue-shaped cauda. The body length of the adult Myzus lythri aptera is 1.5-2.4 mm.

The alate of Myzus lythri (see second picture above) has a light green to yellow abdomen, with a dark patch on tergites II-VI, and marginal and postsiphuncular sclerites. The siphunculi and cauda are brown.

The clarified slide mounts below are of adult viviparous female Myzus lythri : wingless, and winged.

Micrographs of clarified mounts by permission of Roger Blackman, copyright AWP all rights reserved.

In central Europe Myzus lythri host alternates from mahleb cherry (Prunus mahaleb) to purple loosestrifes (Lythraceae) and willow herbs (Onagraceae). In some other parts of the world (including Russia and possibly Britain) it reproduces parthenogenetically on Lythrum species all year round. The aphid is found throughout Europe and much of Asia, and has been introduced to central Africa (Burundi) and North America.


Biology & Ecology


The dorsum of the adult aphid is yellowish or orange-yellow, mottled with light green.

The picture above shows Myzus lythri on one of its (secondary) hosts, willowherb (Epilobium). The aphid's colour matches well with the greenish parts of the stem. The adult aptera also appears to mimic the buds in both size and shape as well as color, as can be seen in the picture below.

Their cryptic coloration aside, Myzus lythri adults are cryptophilic (= concealment-loving). They hide by putting the head and thorax into the leaf axil or under protruding buds (see picture below).

We have also found Myzus lythri on its namesake host, purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicariae, see picture below).

On the purple loosestrife there were both green forms and red forms of the immature aphids, the latter matching perfectly with the colour of the loosestrife stems.

The picture below shows the red form of an alatiform fourth instar nymph.


Natural enemies

Myzus lythri was one of the species examined by Francis (2005) who was looking at whether (E)-β-farnesene is the only volatile terpenoid in aphids. (E)-β-farnesene is a well-known aphid alarm pheromone released when aphids are attacked by predators, which had been found in all previous tested aphid species. EBF proved to be the main volatile substance in Myzus lythri (83.3% of the volatile substances released), but it was associated with two other molecules, an unidentified sesquiterpene hydrocarbon (3.9%) and an unknown molecule (12.8%). EBF was, however, not released by all the aphid species tested.


Other aphids on same host:

Primary host

Myzus lythri has been recorded from 4 Prunus species (Prunus cerasifera, Prunus domestica, Prunus emarginata, Prunus mahaleb) - but not in Britain.

Blackman & Eastop list 12 species of aphid as feeding on mahleb cherry (Prunus mahaleb) worldwide, and provide formal identification keys (Show World list).

Of those aphid species, Baker (2015) lists 9 as occurring in Britain (Show British list).

Secondary hosts
  • Myzus lythri has been recorded from 7 Lythrum species.

    Blackman & Eastop list 6 species of aphid as feeding on purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) worldwide, and provide formal identification keys (Show World list). Of those aphid species, Baker (2015) lists all 6 as occurring in Britain (Show British list).

  • Myzus lythri has been recorded from 5 Epilobium species (Epilobium ciliatum, Epilobium hirsutum, Epilobium montanum, Epilobium roseum, Epilobium tetragonum).

    Blackman & Eastop list about 33 species of aphids as feeding on willowherbs (Epilobium) worldwide, and provides formal identification keys for aphids feeding on various Epilobium species (Show World list). Of those aphid species, Baker (2015) lists 16 as occurring in Britain (Show British list).


Potential for Biological Control of Lythrum in USA

The case for biological control of purple loosestrife in the USA is put forcefully by Blossey et al. (2001). The invasion of purple loosestrife into North American freshwater wetlands alters decomposition rates and nutrient cycling, leads to reductions in wetland plant diversity, reduces pollination and seed output of the native Lythrum alatum, and reduces habitat suitability for specialized wetland bird species.

Conventional methods, either physical, mechanical or chemical, have continuously failed to curb the spread of purple loosestrife or to provide satisfactory control. Although a number of generalist insect and bird species utilize purple loosestrife, wetland habitat specialists are excluded by encroachment of Lythrum salicaria. Blossey et al. conclude that negative ecosystem impacts of purple loosestrife in North America justify control of the species and that the detrimental effects of purple loosestrife on wetland systems and biota and the potential benefits of control outweigh potential risks associated with the introduction of biocontrol agents. Monitoring programs are in place to evaluate the impact of the beetles that have been released (two leaf feeding Galerucella species and a root feeding weevil, Hylobius transversovittatus) on purple loosestrife and other wetland biota. The picture below shows larvae of one of the leaf feeding beetles, Galerucella calmariensis.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Archive, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The European purple loosestrife aphid (Myzus lythri) was not introduced as part of the biological control programme, but was introduced accidentally to America in the 1930s. Voegtlin (1995) looked at whether the purple loosestrife aphid could supplement the biocontrol of purple loosestrife. The complex life cycle and low availability of primary host plants were hypothesized as limiting early-season development of aphid populations on purple loosestrife. Experiments were undertaken to determine if large populations of this aphid could influence the growth and development of purple loosestrife. Two-year plants each inoculated with five aphids showed significantly lower root and shoot weight after a 7 week period as compared with matched controls. Over half of 20 seedlings (3 months old) inoculated with two or five Myzus lythri were dead or clearly dying 11 weeks after inoculation. Mass rearing for early-spring release and planting primary hosts are possible methods to augment the potential of this aphid to function as a biological control agent for purple loosestrife.

Matos & Obrycki (2006) looked at how the presence of Myzus lythri may affect the biological control of purple loosestrife by Galerucella calmariensis. Various aphid predators including Harmonia axyridis and Chrysopa carnea are attracted to populations of Myzus lythri, but will also feed on Galerucella larvae. Based on their study, they predicted that an increase in Myzus lythri populations on purple loosestrife plants may initially reduce predation of Galerucella by providing a preferred alternative host. However, over a longer time period, these predatory species may numerically respond to Myzus lythri populations, resulting in an increase in the numbers of predators present on purple loosestrife plants, and increased predation on Galerucella.

Halbert & Voegtlin (2005) found that suction trap collections of Myzus lythri reflected the distribution of its foodplant, purple loosestrife, and could be used to successfully predict undocumented weed populations.


Damage and control

Purple loosestrife is not generally regarded as a pest in Europe, and is often grown as a decorative plant in gardens. Myzus lythri is sometimes regarded as a pest in this situation, but is seldom abundant enough to cause serious damage.


We especially thank Robin & Rosie Lloyd, The Long House Garden, for their kind assistance and permission to sample.

Whilst we make every effort to ensure that identifications are correct, we cannot absolutely warranty their accuracy. We have mostly made identifications from high resolution photos of living specimens, along with host plant identity. In the great majority of cases, identifications have been confirmed by microscopic examination of preserved specimens. We have used the keys and species accounts of Blackman & Eastop (1994) and Blackman & Eastop (2006) supplemented with Blackman (1974), Stroyan (1977), Stroyan (1984), Blackman & Eastop (1984), Heie (1980-1995), Dixon & Thieme (2007) and Blackman (2010). We fully acknowledge these authors as the source for the (summarized) taxonomic information we have presented. Any errors in identification or information are ours alone, and we would be very grateful for any corrections. For assistance on the terms used for aphid morphology we suggest the figure provided by Blackman & Eastop (2006).

Useful weblinks


  • Blossey, B. et al. (2001). Impact and management of purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) in North America. Biodiversity and Conservation 10(10), 1787-1807. Full text

  • Francis, F. et al. (2005). Is the (E)-b-farnesene only volatile terpenoid in aphids?. Behavioural Processes 40(1), 75-83. Full text

  • Halbert, S.E. & Voegtlin, D.J. (2005). Suction trap records of Myzus lythri (Homoptera: Aphididae) Associated with purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) infestations in Idaho. Weed Technology 8(4), 794-796. Abstract

  • Matos, B. & Obrycki, J.J. (2006). Prey suitability of Galerucella calmariensis L. (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) and Myzus lythri (Schrank) (Homoptera: Aphididae) for development of three predatory species. Environmental Entomology 35(2), 345-350. Google scholar

  • Voegtlin, D.J. (1995). Potential of Myzus lythri (Homoptera: Aphididae) to influence growth and development of Lythrum salicaria (Myrtiflorae: Lythraceae). Environmental Entomology 24(3), 724-729. Abstract