How to Manage Pests
UC Pest Management Guidelines
Scientific Name: Aphis craccivora
(Reviewed 1/17, updated 1/17, corrected 12/18)
In this Guideline:
DESCRIPTION OF THE PEST (View photos to identify aphids)
Cowpea aphid is readily distinguishable from other aphids inhabiting alfalfa because it is the only black aphid found infesting the crop. It is a relatively small aphid and the adult is usually shiny black while the nymph is slate gray. The appendages are usually whitish with blackish tips.
In the Sacramento Valley, cowpea aphid numbers are highest from April to September; numbers peak from October to January in the desert; and in the San Joaquin Valley, cowpea aphid can reach treatable levels from March to October. Cowpea aphids are a sporadic pest in the Intermountain Region.
This aphid has an extensive host range, including beans, cotton, and weeds.
Cowpea aphid injects a powerful toxin into the plant while feeding and, when their numbers are high, this can stunt or even kill plants. While feeding, this aphid produces a considerable amount of honeydew upon which sooty mold can grow. The black sooty mold reduces photosynthesis and may make leaves unpalatable to livestock. The honeydew also makes the alfalfa sticky, which causes problems with harvest.
There are no known varieties of alfalfa that are resistant to cowpea aphid and economic thresholds have not been developed specifically for this pest. Treatments may be necessary if large numbers of cowpea aphids are present. Border harvesting or strip cutting can be important for preserving natural enemies.
Biological Control (View photos of natural enemies)
Two common aphid parasites,Lysiphlebus sp. and Diaeretiella sp., have been identified from the desert production areas. Although parasitism as high as 95% has been documented, aphid numbers can become so high that enough nonparasitized individuals remain to cause significant injury.
This aphid is also susceptible to the usual complement of aphid predators including lady beetles (convergent lady beetle, multicolored Asian lady beetle, twicestabbed lady beetle), lacewings, bigeyed bugs, damsel bugs, and syrphid flies. Early in the season (February and early-March) many of these predators are generally not active, but in the low desert the sevenspotted lady beetle, Coccinella septempunctata, is abundant and feeding on the aphid.
Use border-strip cutting during harvest to help maintain populations of parasites and predators within the field. For more details, see BORDER-STRIP HARVESTING.
Organically Acceptable Methods
Use biological and cultural controls on organically certified crops. Organically certified insecticides such as azadirachtin (Neemix), neem oil (Trilogy), and pyrethrin (PyGanic) are also registered for use on alfalfa to control aphids. Studies conducted in California, however, have shown that at best they provide some suppression of populations but do not control them.
Monitoring and Treatment Decisions
Cowpea aphid infestations are typically patchy in a field, especially early infestations. Stems on alfalfa plants in infested areas are often completely covered with aphids, whereas plants in other areas of the field may appear aphid-free. Because of the spotty distribution of cowpea aphid infestations, spot treatments may be feasible, especially if the infestation is on the field border.
On dormant alfalfa, pay close attention to plants as they begin breaking dormancy. If shoots fail to grow normally and cowpea aphid is present, consider control measures.
Start to monitor fields in February for cowpea aphid and continue to monitor this aphid through fall; monitoring can be combined with that of blue alfalfa and pea aphid as described in APHID MONITORING. (During summer months, monitoring of cowpea aphid can be combined with that of spotted alfalfa aphids.)
Record counts on a monitoring form (PDF).
No guidelines or economic threshold levels have been established for cowpea aphid in alfalfa. Until economic thresholds are developed for the cowpea aphid, use the following thresholds, which were developed for the blue alfalfa aphid:
UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines:
Insects and Mites
L. D. Godfrey, Entomology, UC Davis
Acknowledgment for contributions to Insects and Mites:D. R. Haviland, UC Cooperative Extension, Kern County
M. Rethwisch, UC Cooperative Extension, Riverside County (Blythe)
C. G. Summers, Entomology, Kearney Agricultural Center