Tomato potato psyllid

​​The tomato potato psyllid is an insect that attacks the Solanaceae family of plants which include potato, tomato, eggplant, capsicum, chilli and tamarillo. It also attacks sweet potato and others in the Convolvulaceae plant family.

In February 2017 the tomato potato psyllid was detected in a range of commercial and backyard crops across the Perth metropolitan area. There have also been a small number of detections outside of the Perth metropolitan area including Gingin and parts of the South-West.

The Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia, is continuing with its efforts to manage and contain tomato potato psyllid following the National Management Group's (NMG) decision that it cannot be eradicated.

NMG made its decision based on the recommendation provided by the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP). This technical group's role is to provide recommendations to NMG on whether or not it is technically feasible to eradicate the pest.

This decision does not mean that all efforts will cease to control and manage the tomato potato psyllid. The Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (with assistance from CCEPP members - including industry) is developing a comprehensive transition to management plan designed to limit and manage the impact of the tomato potato psyllid throughout Australia. 

Additional surveillance will also take place to provide confidence to industry that the bacterium, which is associated with Zebra chip disease in potatoes, is not present in Australia. There have been no detections of Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum (CLso) to date.

The tomato potato psyllid is a known vector of CLso.

The tomato potato psyllid has been detected on over 70 properties in Western Australia, with the majority of detections having been in the Perth metropolitan area.

During the response phase more than 1000 properties were inspected by biosecurity officers, and over 7000 sticky traps placed in surveillance areas.​

The Quarantine Area Notice will remain in place for the Perth metropolitan area and surrounds to help prevent the spread of the tomato potato psyllid. To get more information about the restricted area, including a map, see the Department of Agriculture and Food website.

Identifying and reporting affected plants

Everyone in Western Australia who grows potato, tomato, eggplant, capsicum, chilli, tamarillo, or sweet potato plants, needs to check their plants for signs of the tomato potato psyllid. It doesn’t matter whether you are a commercial grower or only keep a few plants in your backyard.

About tomato potato psyllid

Tomato potato psyllid can spread through the movement of tomato, capsicum, eggplant, tamarillo and other solanaceous plant material. It can also occur on other hosts including the Convolvulaceae plant family - which includes sweet potato. It can also disperse through natural pathways such as flight and on the wind.

The tomato potato psyllid is a significant production pest in other countries where it is present, which include the USA, Central America, New Zealand and Norfolk Island which is an external Australian territory.

What to look for

The tomato potato psyllid (Bactericera cockerelli)) is a tiny sap-sucking insect. Adults resemble small winged cicadas and are about 3mm long.

The body is brownish and has white or yellowish markings on the thorax and a broad white band on the abdomen. Wings are transparent and held vertically over the body.

 

Tomato potato psyllid on a leaf. Photo courtesy of Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia.

When present in a crop, the noticeable signs of the tomato potato psyllid include:

  • Insects jumping from the foliage when disturbed. Adult psyllids are sometimes called jumping plant lice as they readily jump and fly when disturbed.
  • Severe wilting of plants occurs when there are large numbers of psyllids feeding.
  • Yellowing of leaf margins and upward curling of the leaves.
  • White sugar-like granules that are excreted by adults and nymphs. These granules coat the plant leaves and stems, and can lead to the development of sooty mould.
  • Honeydew and psyllid sugar make the plants sticky and they often appear dirty.
  • Shortening of stem internodes occurs.
  • The death of the stem is similar to other potato and tomato disorders.

About Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum

The tomato potato psyllid is a known vector (can carry) of the bacterium (Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum or CLso) which causes Zebra chip disease in potatoes. This bacterium is also exotic to Australia and poses a threat to important horticultural crops such as potatoes, capsicum, chilli, tomatoes, eggplant and tamarillo.

There has been no detection of CLso to date.

Despite having no confirmed detections, growers should always check their plants for signs of disease.

What to look for

Zebra chip disease results in reduced crop yield and crop health, stem death, yellowing of leaf tissue, and misshapen tubers.

Symptoms of the Candidatus Liberibacter bacterium on potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum and chilli may look similar to other plant conditions, so growers are urged to be vigilant for the following symptoms:

  • In tomatoes, plants may become stunted or abnormally elongated. Leaf curling and yellowing occurs on the foliage. The fruit develops unevenly. Tomatoes may be misshapen or no fruit is produced or there is an over-production of small, non-commercial grade fruit. Symptoms vary in severity between cultivars.
  • In capsicums and chillies, parts of the plant may die back. In foliage, leaves become misshapen, pale green or yellow with spiky tips and leaf stalks appear stunted. Flowers may drop prematurely. Symptoms vary in severity between cultivars.
  • Symptoms of zebra chip in potatoes include the plant having shortened internodes and aerial tubers may develop in the leaf nodes. Potato tops are likely to be smaller than normal. The foliage turns yellow and may have a burnt or purplish appearance.

    Stems may die completely but regrowth from the base may occur. Tubers from affected plants may have small stalked tubers protruding from the main tuber, called ‘chaining’, and when cut may show internal browning of the vascular ring or brownish streaks along the medullary rays.

Neither the psyllid or the bacterium pose a risk to human health.

Report your detection

This is a significant pest that needs to be contained and managed so it is still important that growers report any detections. If you think the tomato potato psyllid or the bacterium that causes Zebra chip disease may be present in your plants, you must report this to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881. Alternatively, you can use the DAFWA MyPestGuide reporting app.

Detections outside of Western Australia can also be reported to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881. This number will put you in contact with your state or territory department of agriculture or primary industries.

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