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Balsam Twig Aphid, is an insect that greatly concerns growers of balsam and Fraser fir Christmas trees in New York State. An adult balsam twig aphid is small 1/16-3/16 inch long and generally pale green. Eggs are the overwinters stage and may be found nestled in bark crevices or scattered on the new shoots of susceptible fir trees.
Balsam Twig Aphids
Eggs hatch in the spring beginning a few weeks before balsam fir budbreak, and the nymphs crawl out onto the previous seasonâ€™s growth to feed on the underside of needles. The aphids feed there until the buds begin to swell and meanwhile cover themselves with a white cottony wax.
They begin to reproduce, giving birth to live young, just as the buds begin to swell, and they begin to move onto the buds and crawl beneath the bud scales to feed on the new growth. The most severe damage is caused while the new growth is developing. Aphid feeding causes the needles to bend and curl up around the colony of insects. This damage will not go away even after the insects are gone.
Egg: Eggs are small ovals coated with waxy rods that have sloughed off from the underside of the female. Initially, eggs are pale tan, but they darken with age and by spring appear to be silvery black. With the white, waxy rods and almost black eggs, it isrelatively easy to spot eggs using a hand lens of at least 15X magnifi cation.
Life Cycle : Over-wintering eggs of the BTA are found in bark crevices. The eggs will hatch prior to budbreak and then quickly pass through all life stages to be adult, wingless females known as stem mothers. These will begin to produce live young just at budbreak and heavy feeding will begin.
Adults are present in both wingless and winged form. However, wingless females producing live young nymphs, are the most common. Because of their rapid development time 8-12 days from first-instar nymph to adult, asexual reproduction males not needed, and extended reproductive life-span 30+ days at 5-6 nymphs/day.
Damage :Twisted and curled needles are the most apparent damage from feeding by the balsam twig aphid. Feeding can also cause roughened bark on the twigs. Extensive feeding can cause a general decline and reduced vigor of the tree, yet in many cases is cosmetic and not particularly damaging. The major problem is that curled needles reduce the marketability and value of Christmas trees.
Balsam Twig Aphid Damage
Balsam twig aphids also produce honeydew, a sticky material that drops to needles and twigs below. Honeydew gives the needles a shiny appearance, but is usually washed off by rain within a few weeks. At times the honeydew can become a growth medium for sooty mold, which turns the needles and twigs black.
Management: Balsam twig aphids have numerous naturally occurring predators, including yellow jackets, lacewings, earwigs, lady beetles and their larvae , assassin bugs, ants, big-eyed bugs, predatory thrips, over fly larvae, syrphid fl ies, and predaceous midges. The introduced multicolored Asian lady beetle is an excellent aphid predator in the adult and larval stage.
Pick and destroy young cones in spring during aphid activity. Since pesticides will not reach the aphids inside cones, this practice can be time consuming but very benefi cial and will positively affect the aesthetics of the tree.
All pesticide intervention should occur after egg hatch but before bud break; after bud break, aphids are protected by new growth and some damage has already occurred. Dormant oil will kill aphids but will have limited effect on overwintering eggs and often causes damage to elongating needles.
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