Potato, Irish-Psyllid

Potato/tomato psyllid (Bactericera cockerelli)

Pest description and crop damage Adult psyllids resemble miniature cicadas, while the immature stages are scale-like and mostly sedentary, much more so than aphids, and look like white fly nymphs. Feeding by immature stages sometimes causes a physiological foliage disorder known as "psyllid yellows" in potatoes. Symptoms of psyllid yellows are very similar to those caused by phytoplasmas transmitted by leafhoppers.


No laboratory test can confirm psyllid yellows; rather, symptomatic plants that test negative for phytoplasmas often are assumed to have psyllid yellows. Potato psyllid transmits a bacteria-like organism (Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum) that causes a syndrome called "zebra chip" (ZC), named after the characteristic discoloring of the tuber flesh in affected plants. This disease has been most severe in the Southwest U.S. and in Mexico, Central America, Ecuador, Australia and New Zealand. In 2011, this disease was found for the first time in many potato fields in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. It appears that ZC is now an annual pest issue for PNW potato growers, but its severity may vary substantially between years.

Biology and life history The potato psyllid (western and northwestern haplotypes) is normally found in potatoes east of the Cascade Mountains beginning in early June. It is known to overwinter in many growing regions of the PNW, in association with bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), morning glory (Ipomoea violacea), and related weeds. It may also migrate from more distant areas. Because of its late arrival in the crop, potato psyllid is rarely a direct pest in PNW potatoes, but the damage caused by ZC in 2011 showed that the PNW potato industry should be vigilant for early and severe psyllid populations each year. The ZC pathogen is acquired by psyllids during feeding, and once infected a psyllid can remain infective throughout its life, and females can transmit it to their offspring via eggs. Most psyllid populations have a low infection rate - far below 10%, with a range of 1-2% being more typical. For more information, see https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/pnw633.

Scouting and thresholds The most commonly used scouting method for psyllids is yellow sticky traps. Psyllid adults are active flyers and are attracted to yellow, but traps must be placed 5-10 feet inside crop fields. This differs from monitoring beet leafhoppers, which feed and reproduce outside potato fields. To scout beet leafhoopers, it is recommended that sticky cards be set 10-20 feet from potato field edges. Several other non-pest psyllid species are routinely caught on yellow sticky traps in the PNW, so knowing how to recognize potato psyllid is important. For detailed information on monitoring psyllids using yellow sticky traps, see: http://nwpotatoresearch.com/pdfs/PsyllidTrapping.pdf.

Management-biological control

Since nymphs are essentially sedentary, they likely are fed upon by a wide range of predators like Orius pirate bugs, Geocoris big-eyed bugs, and Nabis damsel bugs.

Management-chemical control: HOME USE

  • cyfluthrin
  • esfenvalerate
  • permethrin
  • pyrethrins (often as a mix with other ingredients)-Some formulations are OMRI-listed for organic use.
  • zeta-cypermethrin

Note: Pyrethroid (Group 3 in Tables 1-2) applications make aphid management more difficult and can lead to outbreaks of aphids, thrips, and spider mites.

Management-chemical control: COMMERCIAL USE