Click for a hub of Extension resources related to the current COVID-19 situation.
COVID-19 Resources

Sweetpotato whitefly

Article author: Extension Entomologist at Overton
Most recently reviewed by: Pat Porter & David Kerns & Suhas Vyavhare (2018)

Common Name(s): Silverleaf Whitefly, Sweetpotato whitefly


The sweetpotato/silverleaf whitefly, Bemisia tabaci Gennadius (Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae), is a global pest of many economically important host plants (Simmons et al. 2008) such as eggplant, tomato, sweet potato, cucumber, garden bean (Tsai & Wang 1996), cotton, and poinsettias, to name a few. Similar to other sucking insect pests, sweetpotato whiteflies reduce plant vigor, growth, and can even cause mortality by piercing plant tissue and feeding on plant phloem (Bryne & Miller 1990). Whiteflies excrete waste as a sugary solution, known as honeydew. Excessive honeydew can result in inoculation of a complex of fungi, resulting in a black layer or crust forming on the surface, commonly referred to as sooty mold. In addition to causing detrimental damage by feeding, B. tabaci has been recorded to vector more than 100 plant viruses (Jones 2003), which can result in rapid widespread crop loss. Some of these viruses in Texas include Cucurbit leaf curl virus (Brown et al. 2000) and cucurbit yellow stunting disorder virus (Kao et al. 2000).

Adult whiteflies resemble very small (1 mm or 3/64-in) white moths. When disturbed, adult whiteflies will often leap off the plant and fly a short distance before landing on a nearby surface. Whitefly nymphs, especially younger nymphs, can be hard to see with the naked eye. Whitefly nymphs often blend with the leaf due to their color and relatively flat shape. The final nymph instar is often referred to as a pupa, when they become darker yellow color and are more round, making them easier to distinguish on the leaf. Once they emerge as adults, their shed ‘skin’ stays on the leaf, known as an exuvia. The exuviae stay on the leaf and resemble a small empty shell.

Adult sweetpotato whiteflies can be confused for other whiteflies that may occur in Texas, with two other common ones being the bandedwing whitefly (Trialeurodes abutiloneus) and greenhouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum).

Origin and Distribution

Sweetpotato whiteflies are considered a global pest, however there are certain biotypes or species that are more prevalent in different parts of the world. Texas has populations of both MEAM1 (B biotype) and MED (Q biotype) whitefly.

Life Cycle

Whiteflies are closely related to mealybugs and scale insects. Female adult whiteflies lay eggs, often in a circular pattern as a result of the female using her feeding proboscis as a pivot while laying eggs. Eggs are pear-shaped and approximately 0.2 mm long (CABI MEAM1). On cotton, eggs take between 5 to 22.5 days to emerge as crawlers when held at 16.7ºC (62F) or 32.5ºC (90.5) (Butler et al. 1983), respectively. After emerging from the eggs, a mobile stage known as “crawlers” find a place nearby to settle. Once settled, whitefly nymphs are considered rather immobile until after metamorphosis. Bemisia tabaci undergo four instar stages before pupation and becoming a winged adult. The total development time from egg to adult varies from 16.6 days at 30ºC (86F) to 65.1 days at 14.9ºC (59F) in cotton (Butler et al. 1983). Adult females lay approximately 72 – 81 eggs and survive an average of 8 to 10.4 days in controlled studies (Butler et al. 1983).


If you live in the State of Texas, contact your local county agent or entomologist for management information. If you live outside of Texas, contact your local extension for management options.

Sweetpotato whitefly taxonomy is currently under revision, but it is generally agreed upon that there are specific groups of sweetpotato whiteflies that exhibit different host plant preferences, reproductive rates, and resistance to insecticides. Originally, it was thought that sweetpotato whiteflies were composed of several different ‘biotypes’, a couple well-known ones including the “B” (MEAM1) and “Q” (MED) biotypes, but now has been proposed to be made up of at least 34 morphologically indistinguishable species (Tay et al. 2012). The MEAM1 whiteflies have greater reproductive potential than the MED whiteflies, however the MED whiteflies are resistant to several different insecticides, such as pyriproxyfen and imidacloprid. Growers are encouraged to either use biological control to prevent further rise of resistance to insecticides, or rotate between insecticides that are known to be effective against both MEAM1 and MED whiteflies. See “Related Publications” below for more information.

Whitefly populations can be monitored using yellow sticky cards or searching the undersides of leaves for eggs, nymphs, pupae, exuviae, or adults. Look for other signs of infestation, such as honeydew, sooty mold, or chlorosis.

In many regions of Europe and North America, sweetpotato whiteflies in protected culture (i.e. greenhouses) are managed through regular releases of biological control agents. In the USA, commercially available biological control agents that have demonstrated potential management of sweetpotato whiteflies include Eretmocerus eremicus (Hoddle and van Driesche 1999) and Amblyseius swirskii (Calvo et al. 2010).

Insecticidal management of sweetpotato whiteflies are highly dependent on commodity, location, setting, and thresholds. Some active ingredients that have demonstrated efficacy against both MEAM1 and MED sweetpotato whiteflies include:

  • Abamectin
  • Abamectin + Bifenthrin
  • Acetamiprid
  • Beauvaria bassiana
  • Cyantraniliprole
  • Dinotefuran
  • Isaria fumosorosea
  • Horticultural Oil*
  • Insecticidal Soap*
  • Pyridaben
  • Pyrifluquinazon
  • Spiromesifen
  • Spirotetramat
  • Thiamethoxam

(Kumar et al. 2017)
*Beware of application in extreme heat and exposure to sun. Can cause leaf burn/phytotoxicity.

For more information, consult one of our related publications below for whitefly management specific to your situation.

Related Publications

CABI Bemisia tabaci (MEAM1) fact sheet:

CABI Bemisia tabaci (MED) fact sheet:

Byrne, David N. (1991). Whitefly biology. Annual Review of Entomology, 36: 431 – 457.

Suhas et al. (2018). Managing Cotton Insects in Texas. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

Kumar et al. (2017). Whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) management program for ornamental plants. UF/IFAS Extension.


Brown et al. (2000). Cucurbit leaf curl virus, a new whitefly transmitted geminivirus in Arizona, Texas, and Mexico. The American Phytopathological Society, 84(7): 809.

Butler et al. (1983). Bemisia tabaci (Homoptera: Aleyrodidae): Development, oviposition, and longevity in relation to temperature. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 76: 310 – 313.

Byrne & Miller (1990). Carbohydrate and amino acid composition of phloem sap and honeydew produced by Bemisia tabaciJournal of Insect Physiology, 36: 433 – 439.

CABI Bemisia tabaci (MEAM1) fact sheet:

Calvo et al. (2011). Control of Bemisia tabaci and Frankliniella occidentalis in cucumber by Amblyseius swirskii. 56(2): 185 – 192.

Hoddle, M. and van Driesche, R. G. (1999). Evaluation of inundative release of Eretmocerus eremicus and Encarsia formosa Beltsville strain in commercial greenhouses for control of Bemisia argentifolii (Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae) on poinsettia stock plants. Biology and Microbial Control, 92(4): 811 – 824.

Jones D (2003). Plant viruses transmitted by whiteflies. European Journal of Plant Pathology, 109: 197 – 221.

Kao et al. (2000). First report of Cucurbit yellow stunting disorder virus (genus Crinivirus) in North America. The American Phytopathological Society, 84(1): 101.

Kumar et al. (2017). Whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) management program for ornamental plants. UF/IFAS Extension.

Simmons et al. (2008). Forty-nine new host plant species for Bemisia tabaci (Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae). Entomological Science, 11: 385 – 390.

Tay et al. (2012). Will the real Bemisia tabaci please stand up? PLoS ONE, 7(11): 7 – 11.

Tsai & Wang (1996). Development and reproduction of Bemisia argentifolii (Homoptera: Aleyrodidae) on five host plants. Environmental Entomology, 25(4): 810 – 816.

Bugwood Images