Biology Of Whiteflies In Greenhouse Crops

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 290/620
Publication Date: 07/03
Order#: 03-065
Last Reviewed: 08/09
History: New Factsheet
Written by: Gillian Ferguson - Greenhouse Vegetable IPM Specialist/OMAFRA; Graeme Murphy - Greenhouse Floriculture IPM Specialist/OMAFRA; Les Shipp, Greenhouse Entomologist/Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Description
  3. Whitefly Species
  4. Pest Status


Whiteflies are a major pest of greenhouse crops including tomatoes, cucumbers and many ornamental species, particularly poinsettia, gerbera, and a number of spring crops. Many weed species are also hosts of whiteflies and often serve as sources of infestations. Whiteflies damage crops by reducing their vigour, facilitating growth of sooty mould on leaves and fruits, transmitting viral diseases, and by reducing crop quality by their visible presence (see Factsheet Management of Whiteflies in Greenhouse Crops, Order No. 03-067).

Description & Life-History

Adult whiteflies (Figures 1 and 2) are small, winged, white insects about 1.5-2 mm long. Eggs (Figures 3a and 3b) are laid on the underside of the youngest leaves, and are too small to be seen clearly without the aid of a microscope. A female whitefly may lay up to 300 eggs during her lifetime, and live as long as 42 days at 18oC and 8 days at 27oC. After hatching, the eggs undergo 4 stages or instars before becoming adults. The first instar or larval stage (sometimes called crawlers) (Figure 4) hatches in 5-10 days. They are flat and scale-like, and crawl around for a short while before becoming immobile. The second and third instars or larval stages are followed by the fourth instar or pupal (Figures 5a and 5b) stage, from which the adult emerges. Old pupal skins and adults may be found on the underside of lower leaves, which may have symptoms of wilt. On average, the whitefly completes its life cycle in 35 days at 18oC and 18 days at 30oC. Whiteflies have no special overwintering stage and can usually survive as long as there is some kind of vegetation around.

Whitefly Species

There are 2 whiteflies of concern to growers in Ontario, the greenhouse whitefly (GWF) (Trialeurodes vaporariorum) (Figure 1), and the silverleaf whitefly (SLWF) (Bemisia argentifolii) (Figure 2). The GWF and SLWF adults look very similar, although there are some differences. The SLWF is slightly smaller than GWF, and its body is more yellow in colour. At rest, the SLWF holds its wings tent-like above its body, whereas the GWF holds them flatter and more parallel to the surface on which it is resting. The major diagnostic differences between GWF and SLWF occur in the pupal stages. The GWF pupa (Figure 5a) is raised off the leaf surface and is surrounded by a fringe of hairs whereas the SLWF pupa (Figure 5b) sits flat on the leaf and does not have a fringe. These features are best seen with a microscope. Additional differences are: (a) the SLWF flies in a more direct manner whereas the GWF assumes a more haphazard flight pattern, (b) the life cycle of SLWF takes longer to complete, and (c) SLWF is less adapted to cold conditions.

Adult greenhouse whitefly

Figure 1. Adult greenhouse whitefly.


Adult silverleaf whitefly

Figure 2. Adult silverleaf whitefly.


Recently laid (lighter coloured) and more mature (darker) eggs

Figure 3a. Recently laid (lighter coloured) and more mature (darker) eggs.


Circular egg-laying pattern of greenhouse whiteflyon some crops

Figure 3b. Circular egg-laying pattern of greenhouse whiteflyon some crops.


Early larval stage recently hatched from egg

Figure 4. Early larval stage recently hatched from egg.


Pupa of greenhouse whitefly

Figure 5a. Pupa of greenhouse whitefly.


Pupa of silverleaf whitefly

Figure 5b. Pupa of silverleaf whitefly.

Pest Status

Damage is caused in a number of ways:
  • Their piercing-sucking mouthparts allow them to remove sap from the plant, causing a reduction in plant vigour.
  • They excrete large amounts of a sugary substance called honeydew. This honeydew promotes the growth of a black sooty mould (Figure 6) on plant surfaces, thereby reducing photosynthesis and crop quality. The sooty mould itself does not damage the plants.
  • They can transmit viruses. For example, the SLWF is reported to transmit over 60 viruses, and the GWF has been associated with spread of beet pseudo-yellows virus (Figure 7) in cucumbers.
  • In ornamental crops, their visible presence detracts from the quality of the crop. (Figure 8)

Sooty mould on tomato

Figure 6a. Sooty mould on tomato.


Sooty mould on gerbera

Figure 6b. Sooty mould on gerbera.


Pseudo yellows disease on cucumber

Figure 7. Pseudo yellows disease on cucumber.


Large numbers of whiteflies reduce the quality and marketability of ornamental crops

Figure 8. Large numbers of whiteflies reduce the quality and marketability of ornamental crops.

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