Most recently reviewed by: Pat Porter (2018)
Common Name(s): Cotton Aphid, Melon Aphid
Pest LocationRow Crop, Vegetable and Fruit
Cotton or melon aphids, Aphis gossypii, are highly variable in size and color, varying from light yellow to dark green or almost black. Although size can vary based on environmental conditions, adult aphids tend to be about 1/16th inch in length, are soft bodied and pear shaped. Aphids have piercing-sucking mouthparts and have two protrusions on their rear tips called cornicles. Aphid adults can be winged (alate) or wingless (apterous). The formation of winged types is usually in response to overcrowding or poor host quality. The immatures or nymphs of the aphid are similar in appearance to the adult but smaller.
Origin and Distribution
Cotton aphid is nearly cosmopolitan, having a world-wide distribution. However, host specificity does vary depending on geographic origin.
Habitat & Hosts
Cotton aphids are extremely polyphagous and can feed on a large range of host plants covering 25 plant families. Among many others, notable hosts include asparagus, beans, begonia, catalpa, citrus, clover, cucurbits, cotton, eggplant, ground ivy, gardenia, hops, hibiscus, hydrangea, okra, peppers, potato, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes and violet. Crops typically most affected by cotton aphids include citrus, cotton and hibiscus.
Cotton aphids will initially be found feeding on the underside of new leaves, the plant terminal and flower buds, but as the population grows will infest the under side of older leaves.
Cotton aphids feed using sucking-piercing mouthparts which they use to pierce leaves and ingest copious amounts of plant sap from the phloem. Feeding robs the plant of energy that would otherwise be utilized for growth or fruit production. Heavy and prolonged infestations can cause leaves to curl downward, older leaves to turn yellow and shed, plant fruit may also shed or suffer reduction in size.
Cotton aphids excrete wastes in the form of a syrup-like substance called honeydew. Honeydew will accumulate on the leaves (and other plant structures) giving them a shiny, sticky appearance. A black sooty mold will often grow on the honeydew covering the leaf which may partially inhibit photosynthesis. More importantly, the honeydew may accumulate on the lint of open cotton bolls rendering the lint undesirable for milling.
Cotton aphid is also an important vectors of over 50 plant viruses including cucumber mosaic virus, watermelon mosaic virus 2, and zucchini yellow mosaic virus. These viruses are non-persistent viruses and may be transmitted from aphid to plant in a little as 15 seconds.
Cotton aphids are often attended by ants, which collect an feed upon their honeydew.
With exception of northern latitudes, cotton aphids in the United States are all females, reproduce asexually (parthenogenically), giving birth to live young without mating. Aphids have a tremendous reproductive capacity and nymphs are born with developing embryos already present; essentially aphids are born pregnant. One female may produce as many as 80 offspring that mature within 8 to 10 days. Thus, it is possible for cotton aphids to have as many as 50 generations per year. These generations also occur as frequently as every 5 to 7 days under optimum conditions. In northern latitudes cotton aphid is capable of producing sexual forms and laying eggs on catalpa and rose of sharon for overwintering purposes.
Wingless adults overwinter in protected areas on catalpa, hibiscus, and a number of weed hosts. In the greenhouse, they can be active year-round. In spring winged females fly to suitable host plants and can disperse great distances via wind and weather fronts.
ManagementIf 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.
Predators such as lady beetles, lacewings and syrphid flies, along with parasitoids and aphid-killing fungi are often the most effective means of managing an cotton aphids. These beneficial organisms can effectively prevent aphids from reaching the damaging levels. Aphid tending ants will often protect aphids from predators. Soil and seed applied insecticides offer protection during early plant growth, but foliarly applied insecticides are often necessary on more mature plants. Standard and organically certified insecticides are available, but cotton aphid is notorious for developing resistance to commonly used insecticides so adequate control is not certain.
Blackman, R.L. and V. F. Eastop. 2000. Aphids on the worlds crops: an identification and information guide 2nd edition. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Kerns, D.L., J.A. Yates and B.A Baugh. 2015. Economic threshold for cotton aphid (Hemiptera: Aphididae) on Cotton in the Southwestern United States. J. Econ. Entomol.108: 1795-1803.
Suhas, V., D. Kerns, C. Allen, R. Bowling, M. Brewer and M. Parajulee. 2017. Managing cotton insects in Texas. ENTO-075, 38 pp. http://www.agrilifebookstore.org/Managing-Cotton-Insects-in-Texas-p/ento-075.htm.