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Balsam Twig Aphid

The Balsam Twig Aphid (Mindarus abietinus) is a soft-bodied insect known to infest fir trees, particularly Fraser and Balsam firs, often causing aesthetic damage

Balsam Twig Aphid

The Balsam Twig Aphid (Mindarus abietinus) is a common pest of fir trees, particularly Fraser fir and Balsam fir that primarily affects Christmas tree production and ornamental firs in the landscape.

Host Plants

The primary host plants for the Balsam Twig Aphid are various species of fir trees, including but not limited to:

Regions impacted

Balsam Twig Aphids are found across the globe in regions where their host fir trees grow. They’re particularly prevalent in the northeastern United States, eastern Canada, northern Europe, and parts of Asia.


Adult Balsam Twig Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects measuring about 2 mm in length. Their color varies from pale green to bluish-gray, and they’re often covered in a whitish, waxy secretion. Their body is pear-shaped, with a pair of cornicles, tube-like structures, protruding from their rear end. Balsam twig Aphids extrude honeydew through these tubes.

Life Cycle

The Balsam Twig Aphid has a complex life cycle involving both sexual and asexual reproduction, with multiple generations per year. Their life cycle can be broken down into four main stages: egg, nymph, winged adults (alates), and wingless adults (apterous).

  • Egg: Overwintering eggs are laid in bark crevices of fir trees by mated females in the autumn. These eggs are tiny, elliptical, and black, making them difficult to see without magnification.
  • Nymph: In early spring, as temperatures begin to rise, eggs hatch into nymphs (all female) known as stem mothers. These stem mothers feed on the sap of fir trees, particularly on the buds, and mature into wingless adults. They’re capable of asexual reproduction (parthenogenesis) and give birth to live offspring (up to 70 per stem mother), which will also become stem mothers.
  • Winged Adults: After several generations of stem mothers, some nymphs develop into winged adults. These winged aphids fly to new host plants and give birth to the next generation, including males and females.
  • Wingless Adults: The final generation of the season includes wingless, sexual females, and males. After mating, these females lay overwintering eggs, and the cycle begins anew the following spring.

While the Balsam Twig Aphid does not cause severe damage to the overall health of the tree, it can significantly impact the tree’s aesthetic appeal, particularly in the Christmas tree industry. The aphids’ feeding can lead to distorted and curled new growth. Furthermore, their honeydew excretions can encourage the growth of sooty mold, further detracting from the tree’s appearance.

Damage and Detection


Balsam Twig Aphid damage primarily affects the aesthetics of fir trees rather than their overall health. The primary signs of Balsam Twig Aphid damage are as follows:

  • Needle Distortion: The feeding activity of Balsam Twig Aphids causes new growth (particularly the needles) to become distorted, often appearing twisted or curled. This is due to the aphids injecting their saliva into the plant tissue while feeding, which interferes with the normal growth of the needles.
  • Honeydew and Sooty Mold: As Balsam Twig Aphids feed on the sap of fir trees, they excrete a sticky substance known as honeydew. This honeydew can drip onto the foliage and branches below, often leading to the growth of a black fungus known as sooty mold. While not directly harmful to the tree, sooty mold can detract significantly from the tree’s aesthetic appeal.
  • Stunted Growth: In severe infestations, the feeding activity of the aphids can result in stunted growth of the tree, particularly of the new shoots.


Detecting Balsam Twig Aphids involves both visual inspection and looking for signs of their activity. Here’s what to look for:

  • Physical Presence of Aphids: Balsam Twig Aphids are often found on the undersides of needles and around buds. They are most active in the spring when the first new growth appears on the trees.
  • Eggs: Overwintering eggs, which are tiny, elliptical, and black, can sometimes be found in bark crevices on the fir trees. However, due to their small size, they are difficult to see without magnification.
  • Needle Distortion: Look for needles that are twisted, curled, or otherwise distorted, a common sign of Balsam Twig Aphid feeding activity.
  • Honeydew and Sooty Mold: A sticky residue on the needles or branches, or the presence of a black, soot-like fungus (sooty mold), can indicate a Balsam Twig Aphid infestation.

Regular inspection and early detection are key to managing Balsam Twig Aphid infestations effectively, as it is easier to control the aphids before their populations become too large.

Prevention and Control

Controlling and preventing Balsam Twig Aphid infestations requires a multifaceted approach that includes monitoring, cultural practices, biological control, and, if necessary, the use of insecticides.

  • Monitoring: Regularly inspect fir trees for signs of Balsam Twig Aphids, especially during early spring when the first generation typically hatches. Look for distorted or curled needles and the presence of the aphids themselves. Early detection is crucial in preventing a full-blown infestation.
  • Cultural Practices: Maintaining the overall health of your trees can make them less susceptible to severe aphid damage. This includes proper watering, fertilization, and pruning practices. Removing heavily infested branches can also help reduce the aphid population.
  • Biological Control: Several predators feed on Balsam Twig Aphids, including lady beetles, lacewings, and hoverflies. Encourage these beneficial insects in your landscape by minimizing the use of broad-spectrum insecticides and planting diverse plant species that provide them with nectar, pollen, and alternative prey.
  • Chemical Control: If infestations are severe and other methods have proven insufficient, insecticides may be necessary. Systemic insecticides, which are absorbed by the plant and kill the aphids when they feed, may be used. The application timing is crucial: after the eggs hatch but before bud break. This is when the aphids are most susceptible. After bud break, aphids feed on the expanding new growth that protects them from insecticide contact.
  • Insect Growth Regulators: Certain products interfere with the aphid’s life cycle, preventing them from reaching maturity and reproducing. These insect growth regulators can be a useful tool in controlling aphid populations.

Remember that an integrated pest management (IPM) approach, which utilizes a combination of these strategies based on monitoring and thresholds, is generally the most effective and sustainable way to control pests like the Balsam Twig Aphid. It’s also crucial to follow all label instructions when using any pest control product to ensure effectiveness and minimize any potential harm to the environment.

Plants that Attract Ladybugs, Hoverflies and Lacewings

Anethum graveolens, Dill, Anet, Dill-Oil Plant, East Indian Dill, Meeting-Seed, Sabbath Day Posy
Coriandrum sativum, Coriander, Chinese Parsley, Cilantro, Companion Planting, Culinary Herb, Kitchen Garden
Aurinia Saxatilis, Basket-of-Gold, Alyssum Saxatilis, Golden Alyssum, Gold Dust, Yellow Alyssum, Madwort, GoldentuftAGM Award
Eriogonum fasciculatum,  California Buckwheat, Eastern Mojave Buckwheat, Flattop Buckwheat, Yellow Buckwheat
Limnanthes douglasii, Poached Egg Flower, Meadow Foam, Meadowfoam, Poached Egg Plant, Yellow FlowersAGM Award
Linaria vulgaris, Yellow Toadflax, Bread and Butter, Brideweed, Bridewort, Butter and Eggs, Yellow Flowers
Lobelia erinus, Annual Lobelia, Edging Lobelia, Trailing Lobelia, Garden Lobelia, Blue Lobelia, Blue Flowers
Melissa officinalis, Lemon Balm, Balm, Balm Leaf, Balm Oil Plant, Barm Leaf, Bee Balm, Dropsywort, Honey Plant, Pimentary, Sweet Balm, Sweet Mary, Tea Balm
Mentha pulegium, Pennyroyal, Churchwort, Flea Mint, Organ Herb, Pudding Grass
Mentha spicata, Spearmint, Common Mint, Garden Mint, Garden Spearmint, Green Pea Mint, Lamb Mint, Mackerel Mint, Mary's Herb, Sage of Bethlehem
Monarda fistulosa, Wild Bergamot, American Wild Bergamot, Wild Bee Balm, Lavender Monarda, Lavender Bee Balm, Lavender flowers
Penstemon strictus,  Rocky Mountain Penstemon, Rocky Mountain Beardtongue, Blue Penstemon
Petroselinum crispum, Parsley,  Ache, Devil-and-Back-Ten-Times, Garden Parsley, Herb of Death, Herb Venus
Sedum kamtschaticum, Orange Stonecrop, Russian Stonecrop, Kamschatca Stonecrop, Kamschatca Sedum, Phedimus kamtschaticusAGM Award
Tagetes Tenuifolia,Marigold, Marigolds, American Saffron, Signet Marigold, Slender leaf Marigold, Striped Mexican Marigold, Lemon Gem, Orange Gem, Tagetes Signata, Annual, Annuals,
Creeping Thyme, Wild Thyme,  Breckland Thyme, Drought tolerant perennial, seaside plant, aromatic perennial, fragrant perennial
Feverfew, Maids, Pale Maids, Pellitory, Bachelor's Buttons, Maithes, Matricaria Parthenium, Chrysanthemum Parthenium
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

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