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Thrips - Biological control of pests

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Fig. 1: Anthocorid or Pirate bug (Orius laevigatus) attacking a thrips larvae (photo: U Wyss, Entofilm)
Fig. 2: Amblyseius degenerans attacks a thrips larva (photo: U Wyss, Entofilm)
Fig. 3: Phytoseiid mite (Neoseiulus sp.)
Fig. 4: Predatory thrips (Franklinothrips vespiformis) on an adult Parthenothrips dracaenae (photo: U Wyss, Entofilm)
Fig. 5: Predatory thrips (Franklinothrips vespiformis) feeds on a thrips larva
Fig. 6: Thribobius sp. attacks a Hercinothrips larva (photo: U Wyss, Entofilm)
Fig. 7: Larval endoparasitoid (Ceranisus menes) - adult
Fig. 8: Larval endoparasitoid (Ceranisus menes) - parasitized pupae
Fig. 9: Metarhizium anisopliae infected adult thrips
Fig. 10: Pronotum of Thrips tabaci with calcufluor stained hyphae of Lecanicillium longisporum (Verticillium lecanii)
Fig. 11: Abdomen of Chirothrips guillarmodi strongly infected with nematods
Fig. 12: Pregenitalregion of abdomen of Chirothrips guillarmodi with embryonic stages of roundworm parasites (Nematoda)

Biological control of thrips

Several species of thrips are a major constraint to productivity of wide array of crops including staple food crops, high value vegetables, oil seed crops, cash crops and ornamentals both in the open field and the greenhouses. They inflict direct damage due to their feeding and indirect damage due to their ability to transmit tospoviruses. Due to their cryptic feeding behavior effective targeting of thrips with chemical pesticides has been a challenge, resulting in excessive use of chemical pesticides. The short generation time and excessive pesticide use has resulted in rapid development of resistance to insecticides (Robb et al. 1995). Further there is associated risk of harmful pesticide residues and emergence of secondary pests in an insecticide based thrips and tospovirus management approach. Biological control methods offer a viable and sustainable alternative for management of thrips and thrips-transmitted tospoviruses. An effective biological control strategy needs to target the various development stages of thrips observed above and below ground.
Biological control options available for thrips control can be broadly grouped into predators, parasitoids, entomopathogenic fungi and entomopathogenic nematodes.


Although diverse groups of arthropods have been identified as predators of thrips (Ananthakrishnan 1979; Riudavets 1995), groups that have potential for use in biological control of thrips include Anthocorid bugs; predatory mites and some predatory thrips (Riudavets 1995). However most of the predators are generalist, capable of predating a wide range of insects and mites.

Anthocorid bugs

The Anthocorid or Pirate bugs, especially the insect belonging to the genera Orius Wolff, Anthocoris Fallen, Montandoniola etc are active generalist predators used in biological control programs for thrips (Riudavets 1995). They are very effective against the larval stages of the thrips, and to some extent they also predate on the eggs. In East African cropping systems Orius albidipennis (Reuter), Orius tantillus (Motschulsky) and Orius thripoborus (Hesse) were the most abundant and broadly distributed among the species belonging to genus Orius (Hernandez & Stonedahl, 1999). A key to identification of economically important species of Orius in East Africa has been published by Hernandez & Stonedahl (1999). Globally Anthocorid species such as Orius albidipennis, Orius armatus, Orius insidiosus,Orius laevigatus, Orius majuscules, Orius minutes, Orius strigicollis and Orius tristicolor are commercially available and used in augmentative biological control targeting thrips (van Lenteren 2012).

Phytoseiid mites

Among the predatory mites, species belonging to Phytoseiidae such as Amblyseius swirskii, Amblyseius limonicus; Amblyseius degenerans; Neoseiulus barkeri, Neoseiulus cucumeris and Typhlodromips montdorensis have been used commercially for thrips control in augumentative biological control programs (van Lenteren 2012). Neoseiulus cucumeris is commercially available for thrips management in East Africa. The predatory mites are effective predators against both the egg and larval stages of thrips (van Houten et al. 1995).

Predatory thrips

Unlike the Anthocorid bugs and predatory mites, use of predatory thrips belonging to Aeolothripidae and others such as Scolothrips and Karnyothrips are limited. Species such as Franklinothrips vespiformis, Franklinothrips megalops have been used in classical and conventional biological programs and some are available commercially. Further thrips species such as Scolothrips sexmaculatus, Karnyothrips melaleucus and Karnyothrips flavipes are potential biological control options for thrips (van Lenteren 2012).


All parasitoids of thrips belong to the superfamily Chalcidoidea in the Families Eulophidae, Trichogrammatidae and Mymaridae. Based on their mode of parasitism, they can be broadly grouped as larval solitary endoparasitoids (Eulophidae) or egg parasitoids (Mymariidae, Trichogrammatidae) (Loomans & van Lenteren 1995).

Thrips control-larval endoparasitoids-entedonine

In Eulophidae, many entedonine parasitoids (Hymenoptera: Chalcidoidea: Eulophidae: Entedoninae) promise to be potential biological control agents of pest thrips. They are minute (0.5 to 1.1 mm), solitary endoparasitoids of larval stages of thrips, although sometimes the prepupae and/or pupae of thrips may be attacked, and can be found in four closely related genera: CeranisusGoetheanaThripobius and Entedonomphale (Boucek 1976). Currently 27 species are described, parasitizing over 70 species of Thysanoptera (Loomans & van Lenteren 1995). In Africa, so far eight larval endoparasitoids belonging to Entedoninae: Eulophidae including Ceranisus menes, Ceranisus femoratus; Entedonomphale esenini, Entedonomphale lermontovi; Thripobius javae, Thripobius hirticornis and Goetheana shakespeari and Goetheana incerta have been recorded (Loomans & van Lenteren 1995; Tamò et al. 1993; Triapitsyn 2005). Among these classical biological control efforts with Ceranisus femoratus for the management of Bean Flower thrips has shown promise (Tamò et al. 1993).

Egg parasitoids

Egg parasitoids of thrips mostly belong to the genus Megaphragma (Trichogrammatidae) and one species in the genus Polynema (Mymaridae). Very small size of these parasitoids hampers their collection and efficacy evaluation. Egg parasitoids have been only observed on thrips belonging to thripidae were oviposition is endophytic (Loomans & van Lenteren 1995). In Africa, three egg parasitoids including Megaphragma sp., Megaphragma mymaripennae and Oligosita sp. have been recorded.  Records of thrips parasitoids from Africa are relatively low as compared to other parts of the world. However this might be more due to lack of extensive information on their diversity in Africa, and not the actual diversity.


Among the biopesticide available for insect control, the entomopathogenic fungi and nematodes have great potential for use in thrips management due to their mode of action and habitats where they are effective. The amenability for their mass culturing is also an advantage with both entomopathogenic fungi and nematodes.

Entomopathogenic fungi and nematods

Entomopathogenic fungi

The use of entomopathogenic fungi for thrips holds a lot of promise due to its contact infectivity and ability to penetrate through the cuticle (Goettel & Inglis 1997; Butt & Goettel 2000). Metarhizium anisopliae (Vestergaard 1995; Ekesi et al. 1998, 2000; Maniania et al. 2003; Niassy et al. 2012), Beauveria bassiana (Castineiras et al. 1996a,b; Gao et al. 2012), Paecilomyces fumosoroseus (Castineiras et al. 1996), Lecanicillium (=Verticillium) lecanii (Saito 1992; Helyer 1993, Schreiter et al 1994) are potential entomopathogenic fungi evaluated for thrips control. Optimization of formulation and application technology, enhancement of shelf and environmental durability are very essential to ensure success with entomopathogenic fungi for thrips management. In Africa, a strain of Metarhizium anisopliae has been commercialized under the trade name Campaign ® for thrips control (Ekesi et al. 2011).

Entomopathogenic and parasitic nematode

Entomopathogenic nematodes (EPNs) belonging to families Steinernematidae and Heterorhabditidae are potentially effective biocontrol agents of soil dwelling stages of the thrips (Chyzik et al. 1996; Ebssa et al. 2004; Arthurs & Heinz, 2006; Sims et al. 2012). The entomoparasitic nematode Thripinema nicklewoodi Siddiqi and Thripinema fuscum infects above ground thrips stages and causes sterility of female hosts (Arthurs & Heinz 2003, 2006).


Bibliography and important links to biological control of thrips

Ananthakrishnan TN (1979). Biosystematics of Thysanoptera. Annual Review of Entomology 24:159-183

Arthurs S & Heinz KM (2003). Thrips parasitic nematode Thripinema nicklewoodi (Tylenchida: Allantonematidae) reduces feeding, reproductive fitness and tospovirus transmission by its host, Frankliniella occidentalis (Thysanoptera: Thripidae). Environmental Entomology 32, 853 - 858

Arthurs S & Heinz KM (2006). Evaluation of the nematode Steinernema feltiae and Thripinema nicklewoodi as biological control agents of western flower thrips Frankliniella occidentalis infesting chrysanthemum. Biocontrol Science and Technology 16, 141 - 155

Bouček Z (1976). Taxonomic studies on some Eulophidae [Hym.] of economic interest mainly from Africa. Entomophaga. 21(4): 401-414

Butt TM & Goettel MS (2000). Bioassays of entomopathogenic microbes. CABI Internatinal Press, Wallinford, UK: 141-195

Castineiras A, Baranowski RM &Glenn H (1996a). Temperature response of two strains of Ceranisus menes (Hymenoptera: Eulophidae) reared on Thrips palmi (Thysanoptera: Thripidae). Florida Entomologist  79(1):13-19

Castineiras A, Pena JE, Duncan R & Osborne L (1996b). Potential of Beauveria bassiana and Paecilomyces fumosoroseus (Deuteromycotina: Hyphomycetes) as biological control agents of Thrips palmi (Thysanoptera: Thripidae). Florida Entomologist 79: 458-461

Chyzik R, Glazer I & Klein M 1996. Virulence and efficacy of different entomopathogenic nematode species against western flower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis). Phytoparasitica 24:103-110

Ebssa L, Borgemeister C & Poehling HM (2004). Effectiveness of different species/strains of entomopathogenic nematodes for control of western fl ower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis) at various concentrations, host densities, and temperatures. Biol Control 29: 145-154

Ekesi S, Chabi-Olaye A, Subramanian S & Borgemeister C (2011). Horticultural Pest Management and the African economy: Successes, Challenges and Opportunities in a Changing global environment. Acta Hort. (ISHS) 911:165-183

Ekesi S & Maniania NK (2000). Susceptibility of Megalurothrips sjostedti developmental stages to Metarhizium anisopliae and the effects of infection on feeding, adult fecundity, egg fertility and longevity. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 94: 229-236

Ekesi S, Maniania NK, Onu I & Löhr B (1998). Pathogenicity of entomopathogenic fungi (Hyphomycetes) to the legumes flower thrips, Megalurothrips sjostedti (Thysanoptera. Thripidae). Journal of Applied Entomology 122: 629-634

Gao Y, Reitz SR, Wang J & Lei Z (2012). Potential of a Strain of the Entomopathogenic Fungus Beauveria bassiana (Hypocreales: Cordycipitaceae) as a Biological Control Agent Against Western Flower Thrips, Frankliniella occidentalis (Thysanoptera: Thripidae), Biocontrol Science and Technology, 22, 491-495

Goettel MS & Inglis GD (1997). Fungi: Hyphomycetes. In: Manual of techniques in insect pathology. (Lacey, L ed). San Diego, CA, Academic: 213-248

Helyer N (1993). Verticillium lecanii for control of aphids and thrips on cucumber. IOBC/WPRS Bull, 16, 63-66

Hernandez L M & Stonedahl GM (1999). A review of the economically important species of the genus Orius (Heteroptera: Anthocoridae) in East Africa Journal of Natural History, 33: 543-568

Loomans AJM & van Lenteren JC (1995). Biological control of thrips pests: a review on thrips parasitoids, pp. 89-201. In Loomans AJM, van Lenteren JC, Tommasini MG, Maini S & Riudavets J [eds.], Biological control of thrips pests. Wageningen Agricultural University Papers, 95-1. Veenman Drukkers, Wageningen, The Netherlands

Maniania NK, Ekesi S, Löhr B & Mwangi F (2003). Prospects for biological control of the western flower thrips,Frankliniella occidentalis, with the entomopathogenic fungus, Metarhizium anisopliae, on chrysanthemum. Mycopathologia. 155 (4): 229-235

Niassy S, Maniania NK, Subramanian S, Gitonga LM & Ekesi S (2012). Performance of a semiochemical-baited autoinoculation device treated with Metarhizium anisopliae for control of Frankliniella occidentalis on French bean in field cages. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 142: 97 - 103

Riudavets J. (1995). Predator of Frankliniella occidentalis (Perg.) and Thrips tabaci Lind.: a review. Waegeningen Agricultural University Papers 95: 43-87

Robb KL, Newman J, Virzi JK & Parella MP (1995). Insecticide resistance in western flower thrips, In: Parker BL, Skinner M & Lewis T (Eds.), Thrips biology and management, NATO ASI series. Series A, Life sciences; v. 276., Plenum Press, New York. pp. 341-346

Saito T (1992). Control of Thrips palmi and Bemisia tabaci by a mycoinsecticidial preparation of Verticillium lecanii. Proceedings of the Kanto Tosan Plant Protection Society. 39: 209-210

Schreiter G, Butt TM, Beckett A, Vestergaard S, Moritz G (1994). Invasion and development of Verticillium lecanii in the western flower thrips Frankliniella occidentalis.Mycol. Res.98(9): 1025-1034

Sims K, Becnel JJ & Funderburk J (2012). The morphology, and biology of the entomophilic Thripinema fuscum and the histopathogical effects of parasitism on the host Frankliniella fusca (Thysanoptera: Thripidae). Journal of Natural History 46: 1111-1128

Tamò M, Baumgärtner J, Delucchi V & Herren R (1993). Assessment of key factors repsonsible for the pest status of the bean flower thrips Megalurothrips sjostedti (Thysanoptera: Thripidae) in West Africa. Bulletin of Entomological Research. 83 (2): 256

Triapitsyn SV (2005). Revision of Ceranisus and the related thrips-attacking entedonine genera (Hymenoptera: Eulophidae) of the world. African Invertebrates. 46: 261-315

van Houten YM, van Rijin PCL, Tanigoshi LK, van Statum P & Bruin J (1995). Preselection of predatory mites to improve year-round biological control of western flower thrips in greenhouse crops. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 74: 225 - 234

van Lenteren J (2012). The state of commercial augmentative biological control: plenty of natural enemies, but a frustrating lack of uptake. BioControl 57:1-20

Vestergaard S (1995). Pathogenicity of the Hyphomycete Fungi Verticillium lecanii and Metarhizium anisopliae to the Western Flower Thrips, Frankliniella occidentalis. Biocontrol Science and Technology 5: 185-192


Web links

BMNH, Universal Chalcidoidea Database
UC Riverside - Key to the Nearctic genera of Eulophidae
Mound´s Thysanoptera pages
Thysanoptera Checklist
ICIPE Thrips survey sites
UNI Halle & Thrips sites
Thrips of California

Chalcid wasps (Chalcidoidea):  illustrated glossary of positional and morphological terms
Assembling the Tree of Life - Hymenopera Glossary