The world of minute insects can seem strange and even bizarre when compared to our relatively giant perspective. To the unaided human eye, this bandedwinged whitefly (Trialeurodes abutiloneus), measuring only 1 mm in length, looks like nothing more than a fleck of dandruff. Through a Canon MP-E 65mm 1–5X macro lens with 68 mm of extension tube (resulting in 8X magnification), however, we see an almost moth-like insect with a decidedly adorable “face” negotiating the “trichome forest” of a soybean leaf under-side.
Whiteflies (order Hemiptera, family Aleyrodidae) are tiny insects (more related to aphids than true flies) that colonize a variety of host plants, often building to extraordinary numbers and densities while sucking juices from the leaves. The bandwinged whiteflies in these photos were seen in a soybean field in northwestern Tennessee this summer and can be easily identified as this species due to the transverse, zig-zag bands on the forewings (Malumphy et al. 2010). In the photo above numerous eggs can also be seen distributed over the leaf surface—a sign that this population is about to explode given the numbers of eggs present.
Whiteflies are an occasional pest of soybean in the U.S., but yield reduction has been documented only in the southeastern U.S. by another species, Bemisia tabaci (sweet potato whitefly). Whiteflies are also occasionally seen on soybeans in the Midwest by B. tabaci or yet another species, Trialeurodes vaporarium (greenhouse whitefly); however, yield impacts in this area are rare. Trialeurodes abutiloneus is occasionally reported from soybean, but this species is actually more commonly encountered on sweet potato and malvaceous crops such as cotton and hibiscus (Clower et al. 1973). There was a lot of cotton growing in the area of this soybean field, so perhaps this infestation was a result of spillover from that crop.
“Adorable” and “cute” are not words that I’ve ever associated with whiteflies, but these ultra-closeup photographs give them a personality that I’ve not seen before. For an even more astounding view of the face of a greenhouse whitefly, see this incredible 16X photograph by Huub de Waard. Taken with the same lens as these—though I suspect with a 2X converter rather than extension tubes, it shows an amazing level of sharpness compared to the admittedly soft photos in this post. The larger aperture used (f/6.3) may also be a better choice than the small f/13 aperture I used in an attempt to preserve as much depth of field as possible but with which diffraction is likely significantly greater. Stay tuned as I do some more testing…
Clower, D. F. & C. M. Watve. 1973. The bandedwinged whitefly as a pest of cotton, pp. 90–91. Proceedings of Beltwide Cotton Production and Research Conference, 11–12 January, Phoenix, Arizona. Cotton Council of America, Memphis, TN.
Malumphy, C., A. MacLeod & D. Eyre. 2010. Banded-winged whitefly Trialeurodes abutiloneus. Plant Pest Factsheet, The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), 4 pp.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012