Sweet potato whitefly

Sweet potato whitefly

Bemisia tabaci

Common name:

Sweet potato whitefly

Scientific name:

Bemisia tabaci

Alternative common names:


The sweet potato whitefly is a destructive pest of cotton and vegetable crops. It feeds on the leaves of an estimated 600 plant species, including many field and protected agricultural crops and ornamental plants.

Additional Information

Where does this species come from?


What is its invasive status in South Africa?

NEMBA Category 1b.

Where in South Africa is it a problem?

Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Eastern Cape and Western Cape.

How does it spread?

It is spread on imported ornamental plants and agricultural crops. It can also be transported large distances by the wind.

Why is it a problem?

Heavy infestations of adults and their progeny can cause seedling death. They carry and spread disease, which has a wide impact on global food production. They remove plant sap and break down the leaves of the plant, causing leaf shedding.

What does it look like?

Description: The adult is small, approximately 0.9-1.2mm in length, yellowish with white wings. The two pairs of wings are held somewhat vertically tilted, almost roof-like, over the body and generally do not meet over the back, but have a small space separating them. The compound eyes are red.

Habitat: It is found on crop plants, mostly on the undersides of the leaves.

Breeding: The life cycle from egg to adult may be 18 days in warm temperatures, but may take as long as two months in cool conditions. The number of eggs produced is also greater in warm weather than in cool weather. They have a high capacity for reproduction, which ranges from 50-400 eggs per generation. Reproduction can occur with or without copulation – unmated females can reproduce by parthenogenesis, where only male progeny are produced.

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