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Aphidinae : Macrosiphini : Uroleucon aeneum


Uroleucon aeneum

Dark-tailed thistle aphid

On this page: Identification & Distribution Biology & Ecology Other aphids on the same host

Identification & Distribution:

Uroleucon aeneum apterae (see two pictures below) are shiny metallic bronze-black. The third antennal segment has rhinaria extending over 0.37-0.52 of the length. The apical rostral segment (RIV+V) is 0.23-0.26 mm long. Antesiphuncular sclerites are absent. The tibiae are dark but with a paler dusky middle section, and the hind femur is dark on the distal 0.4-0.5 (cf. Uroleucon cirsii which has mainly pale legs that are only darkened towards the apices of the segments, and Uroleucon jaceae which has tibiae totally black). The siphunculi of Uroleucon aeneum have reticulation on the distal 0.15-0.20, and are 1.4-1.8 times the length of the cauda. The cauda is wholly dark (cf. Uroleucon cirsii which has a slightly dusky yellow cauda). The body length of the adult Uroleucon aeneum apterae is 3.0-4.3 mm.

Both images above copyright Brian Eversham, all rights reserved.

The alate viviparous Uroleucon aeneum female is much like the apterous viviparous female, but has well developed antesiphuncular sclerites. Antennal segment III has 50-68 secondary rhinaria. The apterous ovipara is similar to the apterous viviparous female, and the alate male has a dark green body with black spots.

Uroleucon aeneum lives in sometimes very large colonies on the upper parts of stems of thistles, mainly Carduus species, but also on some Cirsium species. The dark-tailed thistle aphid does not host alternate, but remains all year round on thistle. Oviparae and alate males appear in September. Uroleucon aeneum is found throughout Europe to Turkey, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Siberia, and has been introduced to Argentina and Chile.


Biology & Ecology

Uroleucon aeneum seems to be one of those species that thrives in roadside habitats. The image below was taken of a nodding thistle plant (Carduus nutans) at the roadside in Suffolk, England.

Image above copyright Brian Eversham, all rights reserved.

Basky (2016) looked at aphid species colonizing perennial Asteraceae species along Hungarian motorways. Uroleucon aeneum was colonizing welted thistle (Carduus acanthoides), whilst Uroleucon cirsii was present on bristly hawksbeard (Crepis setosa) and hawkweed oxtongue (Picris hieracioides).

Image above copyright Brian Eversham, all rights reserved.

Moran (1986) suggested that Uroleucon aphids have adapted morphologically to the different selective regimes, imposed by certain characteristics of the plant surface, to give rise to the large number species we see today. Those characteristics, including prickles, hairs, glandular hairs, scales and papillae (known collectively as trichomes) are known to affect feeding success of aphids. Members of the Asteraceae vary greatly, even within a genus, in trichome structure and abundance, from glabrous (=smooth) surfaces, to those which are densely pubescent with short hairs, to those which have long glandular hairs. Moran demonstrated that the principle that 'the hairier the plant surface, the longer the apical segment of the aphid rostrum' also applies for members of what the author describes as 'the Uroleucon aeneum complex'.


Other aphids on same host:

Uroleucon aeneum has been recorded from 15 Carduus species, 7 Cirsium species, also from Carthamus dentatus, Carthamus lanatus, Cnicus benedictus, Galactites tomentosa, Onopordum acanthium, Onopordum illyricum, Silybum marianum, plus Scolymus and Sonchus species (unidentified).


Our thanks to Alan Outen of the Bedfordshire Invertebrate Group for earlier photos of Uroleucon aeneum, and to Brian Eversham of Bedfordshire Wildlife Trust for the photos currently used above.

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


  • Basky, Zs. Aphid species colonizing perennial Asteraceae host species along Hungarian motorways. Acta Phytopathologica et Entomologica Hungarica 51 (1), Full text

  • Moran, N.A. 1986. Morphological adaptation to host plants in Uroleucon (Homoptera: Aphididae). Evolution 40 (5), 1044-1050.Full text