Biology, images, analysis, design...
Aphids Find them How to ID AphidBlog
"It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important" (Sherlock Holmes)

Search this site

Aphididae : Chaitophorinae : Siphini : Sipha


Genus Sipha

Bristly grass aphids

On this page: Sipha elegans flava maydis

Sipha [Siphini]

Sipha are medium-sized oval aphids that have conspicuous spine-like hairs. They have 5-segmented antennae and a sclerotic upper surface. Their short siphunculi are stump-shaped. The four species of the nominate subgenus Sipha have a knobbed cauda, and the eight species of subgenus Rungsia have a broadly rounded cauda.

Sipha feed on grasses. Some Sipha species are largely restricted to particular grass genera or even species thereof, whilst other Sipha are polyphagous. Several species are restricted to wetland or coastal habitats.


Sipha elegans (Bristly olive grass aphid) Europe, Asia, North America

Adult apterae of Sipha elegans are usually brown to yellowish brown (see first picture below) or in cooler conditions olive green (see second picture below), with rows of spiny hairs. There is a paler spinal stripe (more apparent on immatures), and dark transverse intersegmental markings (cf. Sipha flava, which are usually bright yellow with only dusky intersegmental markings). The antennae are quite short, only 0.37-0.39 times the body length, with their terminal process 1.70-2.10 times as long as the base of antennal segment VI (cf. Sipha flava, which has somehat longer antennae at 0.45-0.54 times the body length). The apical rostral segment (RIV+V) is 0.50-0.62 times the length of the second hind tarsal segment (HTII). The siphunculi are small shallow pigmented cones. The cauda is broadly rounded (cf. Sipha flava, which has a cauda which has a conical base and a rounded, knobbed apex). The body length of adult Sipha elegans apterae is 1.4-2.1 mm. Immatures (see second picture below) are yellow-green speckled with rows with dusky spots.

Both images above by permission, copyright Jessica Joachim, all rights reserved.

The alate Sipha elegans (see second and third pictures below) has a black head and thorax, and a brownish yellow abdomen with dark sclerites.

Sipha elegans feeds on a wide range of grasses and cereals including (for example) Ammophila, Festuca and Triticum. On grass it produces characteristic feeding damage - the leaf blades roll upwards and yellow-brown patches develop (see pictures below). They are usually attended by ants (see second picture below). Sipha elegans is widely distributed over the world. It is native to the Palearctic from Europe, across Asia to China and Western Siberia. It is also well-established in the northern parts of the USA.



Sipha flava (Yellow sugarcane aphid) North, Central & South America, Africa, Southern Europe

Adult apterae of Sipha flava are straw-coloured to bright yellow, or light green at low temperatures, with dusky transverse intersegmental markings (see two pictures below) (cf. Sipha maydis apterae, which have the abdominal dorsum almost completely dark brown to black and sclerotic). Their antennae are 5-segmented, and the terminal process is 1.5-2.2 times as long as the base of antennal segment V (cf. Sipha agropyronensis, Sipha glyceriae and Sipha littoralis, which all have the terminal process less than 1.3 times the base). The longest antennal hair on antennal segment III is 2.0-3.0 times the basal diameter of this segment. The dorsum has numerous bristle-like hairs arranged in paired spinal, pleural and marginal rows (cf. Sipha agropyronensis, which has numerous bristle-like hairs, not arranged in rows). The siphunculi are reduced to slightly elevated dusky-rimmed pores. The cauda has a conical base and a rounded, knobbed apex (cf. Sipha elegans, which has a broadly rounded cauda). The knobbed cauda is just visible at the tip of the abdomen in the first picture below, but is displaced back in the clarified mount. The body length of adult Sipha flava apterae is 1.3-2.0 mm.

Images above copyright Jesse Rorabaugh under a public domain (CCO) licence.

Sipha flava alatae (not pictured here, but shown in Way et al., 2014) have variably-developed dark dorsal abdominal markings, and dark shading of the wing veins. Immatures (see pictures below) are similarly coloured yellow to green, but with dusky spots around the bases of the siphunculi and of the long bristle-like hairs. There is also a paler mid-spinal stripe.

Sipha flava is found on the leaf blades of grasses (Poaceae), often in large colonies, in numerous genera including Andropogon, Cynodon, Digitaria, Holcus, Hordeum, Miscanthus, Panicum, Pennisetum, Saccharum, Setaria, Sorghum and Triticum. It is also recorded from sedges (Cyperaceae) such as Carex and Cyperus. Unlike, for example Sipha elegans, it is not usually attended by ants (but see here). In temperate climates Sipha flava is monoecious holocyclic, with oviparae and apterous males developing in autumn. The eggs are elliptical-oval, pale green when first laid and black after that. They are usually laid on the underside of the leaf of the host plant, rarely on its stem (Davis, 1909). In warmer climates it is anholocyclic, reproducing parthenogenetically throughout the year. The yellow sugarcane aphid is native to North America, but has become established in Central and South America and in the Caribbean and Hawaii. It has more recently been found in Morocco, Spain, South Africa and most recently, Kenya (Mutonyi & Babikha, 2019).



Sipha maydis (Bristly black grass aphid) Europe, Asia, North & South America

The dorsum of the adult Sipha maydis aptera (see shiny black aphid nearest the ant in picture) is shining dark brown to blackish over the sclerotized areas. The antennal terminal process is less than 1.5 times as long as base of antennal segment 5. The apical rostral segment is 0.10-0.11 mm long, with 2- 3 subsidiary hairs. The adult body length is l.0-2.l mm.

Image copyright Adam Polednicek, all rights reserved.

The alate Sipha maydis (see picture above) has a solid sclerotic carapace extending over abdominal tergites 4-7, and including the siphuncular bases and the marginal sclerites of tergites 6-7. Abdominal tergites l-3 have separate dark bands, becoming narrower towards the front. Developing alatae (see the three larger wingless individuals in the picture above) are greenish on the thoracic area with a dull black abdomen and a characteristic orange-pinkish spinal stripe.

The bristly black grass aphid feeds on numerous species of grasses (Poaceae). It is mostly found on the upper sides of leaf blades, near the base, but also occurs on the stems or flowers. It is usually attended by ants as in the picture. It probably overwinters parthenogenetically in most areas, but apterous males have been reported in some countries. Sipha maydis is found in Europe and much of Asia, and more recently in North and South America. It can reach pest numbers on some cereal crops like barley.



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


  • Blackman, R.L. & Eastop, V.F. (2006). Aphids on the world's herbaceous plants and shrubs. Vols 1 and 2. John Wiley & Sons.