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Biological control of the lupin aphid, Macrosiphum albifrons

Lupin aphids

Lupin aphids

The lupin aphid and how to control it in an environmenally friendly way

The lupin aphid, Macrosiphum albifrons (Order: Homoptera; Family: Aphididae) lives, as its name suggests, on lupin (Lupinus sp), and is highly damaging. It has a bluish-green body covered with a white wax. Its large size of 3.5 - 4.5 mm, makes it easily distinguishable from other aphid species.

It is widely distributed in the United States and is now spreading through Europe since its first occurrence in England in 1981.

Biology of the lupin aphid

Macrosiphum albifrons spends its entire life cycle on lupin. The first wingless females appear in June. They reproduce parthenogenetically (i.e. the ova develops without fertilisation) and produce life, parthenogenetic daughters. In hot, dry weather, the population grows rapidly and in July the stems of lupin plants can be completely covered in closely packed aphid colonies.

Damage of the lupin aphid

A healthy Lupinus albus

A healthy Lupinus albus

Severe aphid infestations are highly damaging to the plants. Their flowers wilt and die, and eventually the whole plant may succumb. In addition, the lupin aphid may help the spread of bean yellow mosaic virus, which has been found in Lupinus albus.

Coccinella septempunctata

Coccinella septempunctata

Natural enemies of the lupin aphid

M. albifrons has a variety of natural enemies: coccinellids, larvae of syrphids and chrysopids, and parasitic wasps. However, these species have little or no impact on the aphids if they occur on bitter cultivars of lupin, as the high alkaloid content of these cultivars render the aphids poisonous to their enemies.

It was found, for example, that larvae of the ladybird Coccinella septempunctata fed on lupin aphids from bitter cultivars (L. albus, L. angustifolius and L. mutabilis) died after around three days. However, hoverfly and lacewing larvae appeared less sensitive and some developed to adulthood.

Such negative effects on the natural enemies were not found on the alkaloid-poor sweet cultivars (especially the sweet cultivar of L. albus).

A Praon wasp parasitised an aphid

On our own lupin we found some lupin aphids that were parasitised by a parasitic wasp (Praon spp). The aphids were transformed into mummies from which later new wasps emerged.

Treatment of the lupin aphid

  • To give natural enemies a chance, it is advised to plant sweet cultivars of lupin.
  • Lure hoverflies to the garden, by growing flowers with flat flower heads, such as peony, daisy, dill and other crucifera.
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When you buy lupines or lupin seed, get a sweet variety, as these varieties are the least favoured by the lupin aphid!

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Leave your comments here

dananoelle on June 21, 2014:

I used a couple of teaspoons of Epsom Salt in a litre water spray and doused the whole lupin.. it looks a little bedraggled but the Aphids are dead !! HORRAY

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on August 13, 2012:

Nice lens. That photo of the wasp is unbelievable. We have so much trouble in New Zealand with the wasps I never thought of that happening. The wasps have wiped out our bee hives, by eating the young bees before they emerged from the honeycomb. Thanks for this Blessed.

MartieG aka 'survivoryea' from Jersey Shore on May 23, 2012:

Very interesting-we have loads of ladybugs in our yard so I hope we are safe from the lupin aphid :>)

Marlies Vaz Nunes (author) from Amsterdam, the Netherlands on May 23, 2012:

@SusannaDuffy: A nasty world indeed!

Susanna Duffy from Melbourne Australia on May 23, 2012:

It's a nasty minuscule world out there isn't it? I confess I can't feel much compassion for the aphid, but the image of one which was parasitised by a wasp is just horrible. Congratulations on another fine insect world presentation

JoshK47 on May 23, 2012:

Good information! Thanks for sharing!

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