Description and biology of agapanthus gall midge

RHS project team
Hayley Jones and Andrew Salisbury
Keith Harris, Agapanthus Trial Forum
Start date
02/07/2014 00:00:00
End date
30/06/2016 00:00:00
Agapanthus, gall midge, Cecidomyiidae, lifecycle
The problem
The agapanthus gall midge is a new undescribed pest affecting Agapanthus that belongs to the Cecidomyiidae family of flies. The tiny gall midge lays eggs which develop into maggots inside the individual flower buds or inside the closed flower head sheaths. The maggots can then cause the bud to be deformed and discoloured and often fail to open. The severity of this can range from a couple of buds failing, to collapse of the entire flower head. Infestation can be confirmed by opening the buds or flower heads and looking for the presence of small maggots 1-3mm in length which are a creamy yellow or orange colour. Symptoms and larvae can be seen in the images below.

This problem was first noticed in a private garden in 2014 and brought to the attention of entomologists at the Royal Horticultural Society. Inspection at RHS Garden Wisley showed it was present in the RHS collections and subsequent reports indicate it has been present in the UK for at least two years and it is widely established in other parts of southern England. The species responsible has not been previously described in the UK or abroad; although there is some evidence a midge can also cause damage to agapanthus in South Africa.

Consequently, very little is known about the biology and lifecycle of this insect and so the Plant Health team at RHS Garden Wisley have launched a project to study it, working with Defra and international experts.

Defra have added the agapanthus gall midge to the UK Plant Health Risk Register and are considering what actions are appropriate to manage the incursion of this pest. One of the likely actions is a targeted survey and awareness raising to help determine the distribution of the midge and scope for actions to mitigate impacts.

Symptoms (low) - click to enlarge

Symptoms of Agapanthus gall midge - low
Symptoms (medium) - click to enlarge Symptoms of Agapanthus gall midge - medium
Symptoms (severe) - click to enlarge Symptoms of Agapanthus gall midge - severe
Affected buds - click to enlarge Affected buds
Larvae - click to enlarge
The Plant Health team is investigating the midge so that control advice can be provided. First the species must be described and assigned a scientific name – this work is being carried out in collaboration with Keith Harris, an international expert on cecidomyiid flies.

Many samples of larvae from different locations will be gathered to extract DNA for sequencing so that we can deduce how this midge is related to other Cecidomyiidae such as the hemerocallis gall midge (Contarinia quinquenotata).

Observations are being carried out in summer 2015 on plants at RHS Garden Wisley and on infested plants that are contained within the RHS Field Research Facility. This will enable preliminary study of the biology and life cycle of the midge and description of the appearance of all life stages.

Further experimentation and observation will be carried out in 2016 with midge populations reared through from live samples from 2015. This may include a replicated experiment on pesticide application to assess timing and products appropriate to achieve some level of control. We will also be looking for the emergence of natural enemies such as parasitoid wasps.

Plants in the Field Research Facility

Project update

RHS scientists in collaboration with Keith Harris published a description of the midge species in 2016, it now has the scientific name Enigmadiplosis agapanthi. A report outlining the results of observations on the midge’s biology and lifecycle made in 2015 can be found here.

Following a pest risk analysis and due to the widespread distribution of the midge Defra decided that statutory action was inappropriate. This means that as the pest is unlikely to be eradicated, commercial growers and home gardeners will need ways to manage it. Therefore the RHS decided to apply for funding from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to continue research into the biology of this midge and start to find some control options. This project is being carried out in collaboration with ADAS.

Further information

Agapanthus gall midge advice profile page
End of season 2015 report
Species description

Request for samples
Gardeners are requested to help in this research by sending in samples of infested flowerheads in sealed bags/containers to:

Entomology, RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey, GU23 6QB.

Alternatively images with location information will help map how widespread the midge is in the UK and can be sent to:

Please include the postcode of where the plant is growing as well as the Agapanthus cultivar name, date of planting and place of purchase if known. If you would like to receive results from the experiment please provide your name and email or postal address.
Benefits to gardeners
The RHS will be able to accurately diagnose and provide advice for gardeners about the agapanthus gall midge. We will be able to ascertain the host plant specificity of this novel insect to the UK and understand enough about its biology and life cycle to suggest appropriate measures of control.
Further information
Agapanthus gall midge advice profile

End of season report - 2015

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