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Aphidinae : Macrosiphini : Ovatomyzus boraginacearum


Ovatomyzus boraginacearum (= Ovatomyzus calaminthae)

Alkanet aphid

On this page: Identification & Distribution Biology & Ecology: Life cycle Colour Natural enemies Other aphids on the same host

Identification & Distribution:

Adult apterae of Ovatomyzus boraginacearum (see first two pictures below) are usually whitish to pale greenish yellow, but may be brownish yellow to orange in overwintering populations. Their antennal tubercles are smooth and well developed. The pale antennae are longer than the body, and the terminal process of antennal segment VI is 1.5-2.3 times the length of antennal segment III. The pale siphunculi do not have any distinct subapical polygonal reticulation, and are slightly swollen subapically, narrowing to a slight constriction before the flange. Ovatomyzus boraginacearum is a very small aphid, with a body length of only 0.9-1.6 mm.

The Ovatomyzus boraginacearum alate (see third picture above) has a black dorsal abdominal patch and cross bars on the posterior tergites. The antennae and legs of the alate are dark, the siphunculi and cauda are dusky.

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

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

The alkanet aphid lives scattered on the undersides of leaves of its host plants, which are mainly in the family Boraginaceae, especially alkanet (Pentaglottis), lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) and comfrey (Symphytum officinale), and less commonly in the family Dipsacaceae. Ovatomyzus boraginacearum does not have sexual forms, but is reported to have a specialized hibernating apterous morph. It has been found in several European countries including England, Germany and Netherlands, as well as in Iran.

Biology & Ecology

Life cycle

Ovatomyzus boraginacearum is mainly found on members of the Boraginaceae, especially alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens, see picture below).

Reproduction through the year is entirely parthenogenetic, and there is no host alternation, although the species can sometimes be found on reserve hosts such as herb Bennet (Geum urbanum) (see Ripka, 2001). The picture below shows an adult feeding on comfrey (Symphytum officinale) that has just given birth to a (first instar) nymph.

Ovatomyzus boraginacearum does not generally form large dense colonies. Instead the adults scatter their larvae about over the leaves (see picture below of adults with immatures).

Alatae seem to be quite rare, but we have obtained them (see pictures below of immature and adult) by rearing the aphids on cut food in plastic boxes thereby obtaining (? artificially) dense populations.

As with Ovatomyzus stachyos in Denmark, Ovatomyzus boraginacearum can be found outdoors in Britain in the middle of winter - and at any other time of year.


For most of the year, apterae of Ovatomyzus boraginacearum are whitish to pale greenish yellow (see picture below taken in September).

Some forms are instead brownish yellow, often with a faint orange patch on the dorsum (see first picture below taken in March 2017). Darker forms (brownish yellow or orange) are thought to be overwintering forms.

However, the second picture above was taken in mid-summer 2017 and shows the same reddish-range patch. Perhaps this reddish colour is a reaction to a developing endoparasitoid, rather than the brownish overwintering form.

Natural enemies

The leaves and stems of Boraginaceae are densely covered in trichomes, one purpose of which is presumably to discourage herbivores. Selvi & Bigazzi (2001) describe the leaf surface and anatomy of the Boraginaceae, including seven types of trichomes. Ovatomyzus boraginacearum appears to be the only aphid species specific to Pentaglottis, although five polyphagous species can occasionally be found on it.

The plant's defences appear to have been successful in reducing the number of aphid species that feed on Ovatomyzus, but they also seem to have reduced the number of predators that can move around on its leaves and stems. Larvae of Syrphidae and Coccinellidae are conspicuous by their absence, and the only predators we have found (so far) feeding on Ovatomyzus are cecidomyiid larvae (see yellowish predatory larva in picture below).

The scattered dispersal of this aphid may be adaptation to predation by these predators (although we have found cecidomyiid larvae to be major predators of some more typical 'colony-forming' aphids). There are of course several species of cecidomyiids that predate aphids, which at present we cannot differentiate at the larval stage.


Other aphids on same host:

  • Ovatomyzus boraginacearum has been recorded from 1 Pentaglottis species (Pentaglottis sempervirens).

    Blackman & Eastop list 6 species of aphid as feeding on green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens) worldwide (Show World list). All of those Baker (2015) lists as occurring in Britain (Show British list).

  • Ovatomyzus boraginacearum has been recorded from 1 Pulmonaria species (Pulmonaria officinalis).

    Blackman & Eastop list 14 species of aphid as feeding on lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) worldwide, and provide formal identification keys (Show World list). Of those aphid species, Baker (2015) lists 12 as occurring in Britain (Show British list).

  • Ovatomyzus boraginacearum has been recorded from 6 Symphytum species (Symphytum asperum, Symphytum caucasicum, Symphytum officinale, Symphytum orientale, Symphytum peregrinum, Symphytum ×uplandicum).

    Blackman & Eastop list 11 species of aphid as feeding on comfrey (Symphytum officinale) worldwide, and provide formal identification keys (Show World list). Of those aphid species, Baker (2015) lists 10 as occurring in Britain (Show British list).


Our particular thanks to Roger Blackman for images of his clarified slide mounts.

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


  • Ripka, G. (2001). New data to the knowledge of the aphid fauna of Hungary (Homoptera: Aphidoidea). Acta Phytopathologica Entomologica Hungarica 36 (1-2), 81-87. Full text

  • Selvi, F. & Bigazzi, M. (2001). Leaf surface and anatomy in Boraginaceae tribe Boragineae with respect to ecology and taxonomy. Flora 196, 269-285. Abstract