Green spruce aphid

Unlike most aphids which are active during the spring and summer, the green spruce aphid is active during the winter months. It can cause needle drop on spruce trees (Picea species).

Green spruce aphid (Elatobium abietinum) on Spruce (Picea pungens). Credit: RHS/Entomology.

Quick facts

Common name Green spruce aphid
Scientific name Elatobium abietinum
Plants affected Picea species especially Picea abies (Norway spruce or Christmas tree), Picea sitchensis (Sitka spruce) and Picea pungens (blue spruce)
Main symptoms Pale blotches on foliage overwinter. Heavy needle drop. Small green aphids are present during winter
Most active October to March

What is green spruce aphid?

Green spruce aphid is a sap-sucking insect that infests spruce trees (Picea species) causing needle drop.

Symptoms

  • Green spruce aphid is up to 2mm long, is dull green with dark red eyes
  • It is most likely to be seen on spruce trees during late autumn to spring 
  • Old needles develop a pale mottled discolouration during the winter and many of these needles fall off in the spring
  • A black sooty mould may be noticeable on the stem joints
  • New growth produced in spring is unaffected, and its bright green appearance often contrasts strongly with the discoloured and sparsely foliated older stems

Control

Non-chemical control

  • Natural enemies such as ladybirds, lacewings, hoverfly larvae and parasitic wasps may predate on the inactive nymphs in summer and help to limit infestations
  • Damaged trees can be helped to recover by keeping them watered during dry spells and feeding with a general fertiliser in spring
  • It can take several years for a badly damaged tree to regain an attractive appearance

Chemical control

  • Small trees can be sprayed with thiacloprid (e.g. Bayer Provado Ultimate Bug Killer), acetamiprid (e.g. Bug Clear Ultra), lambda-cyhalothrin (e.g. Westland Resolva Bug Killer) or deltamethrin (e.g. Bayer Sprayday Greenfly Killer) in late August or September, and again during winter if the foliage is becoming discoloured and aphids are present
  • Little can be done to protect tall trees, other than spraying the lower branches

Download

Pesticides for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining pesticides available to gardeners)

Biology

  • This aphid differs from most other aphids by being active from autumn to spring, instead of in the spring and summer
  • The summer is spent as non-feeding nymphs
  • This aphid can be particularly damaging in mild winters, which enable it to breed more rapidly
  • Do not confuse aphids with other insects known as barklice or psocids. These feed on algae and fungal spores and may be numerous on trees affected by sooty mould
  • Psocids are aphid-sized, winged or wingless, and brownish-white in colour. They run rapidly over foliage, unlike the slow-moving aphids

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