Keep an eye out for tomato potato psyllid

Tomatoes

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The tomato potato psyllid (TPP) is a small sap-sucking insect and a serious pest of tomato, potato, chilli, capsicum, eggplant, tamarillo, sweet potato and weeds such as nightshades and boxthorn. 

TPP is native to North America, but is also found in Central America. It was first found in New Zealand in 2006 and has since become a significant pest there.

In February 2017, TPP was found in Australia. Many people expected TPP to first arrive on the eastern seaboard, but it was instead found in a Perth backyard garden! It hasn’t spread out of Western Australia yet, but home gardeners must keep an eye out!

How do I know what to look for?

The TPP is a winged insect that is black with a white stripe on its back. It is very small, ranging from 2-3 mm.

Eggs are tiny, yellow and ovular. They are usually found on the leaf margins.

Tomato potato psyllid (Bactericera cockerelli) adult

Tomato potato psyllid (Bactericera cockerelli) adult.  Image credit: Whitney Cranshaw (bugwood.org)

If you can’t spot an adult, young, or egg, another key indicator of the psyllid’s presence is ‘psyllid’ sugars, which are a waste product that look like caster sugar spread across the leaf surface. 

Other indicators include discolouration of the foliage, leaf stunting, curling, and wilting, but it is hard to distinguish these symptoms from those caused by other pests.

Tomato potato psyllid (Bactericera cockerelli) damage

Tomato potato psyllid (Bactericera cockerelli) damage. Image credit: Whitney Cranshaw (bugwood.org)

Why is it a problem?

TPP poses a considerable threat to home gardeners and commercial vegetable growers alike.

Overseas, the TPP carries a bacterium which can cause a disease called ‘zebra chip’ in potatoes. The bacteria is not present in Australian populations of TPP, but is continuously being monitored.

 Check your crop

Psyllids will congregate on the underside of the leaves, so make sure you do a thorough check of the entire plant.

Also be sure to clean up surrounding weeds too, as they can harbour TPP while they wait for a suitable host such as tomatoes to grow.

Most importantly, if you suspect TPP, report it to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

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