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Thrips lifecycle – from egg to adult

Thrips lifecycle

Thrips are often considered pests for gardens, vegetable patches, and houseplants. Knowing about their lifecycle deal with them better.

Key thrips lifecycle facts

Generations per year – up to 40
Offspring per cycle – 20 to 50
Active during – daytime

Thrips lifespan – 45 days as an adult, not including hibernation
Type of reproduction – sexual (male & female) oviparity (egg-laying)
In exceptional cases, asexual parthenogenesis and live birth

Thrips are very small insects that are nearly impossible to see with the naked eye. They start out as rice-like eggs laid in small cuts or wounds in leaves, fruits, or stems of plants.

Lifecycle of thrips

Spring is when thrips start hatching or emerging from hibernation. They reach maturity after two weeks and start reproducing until fall. Thrips damage plants through feeding both in the nymph stage and as adults. Although they usually only live for one or two months, many generations can appear within a single year.

Different stages in the life of a thrips

Adult thrips lay eggs in live plants for them to hatch and give rise to the next generation.

From the moment the egg hatches, up to growing into a full adult that is capable of reproduction, a thrips will go through several stages.

Stages of thripsHere they are listed in chronological order:

  • Egg
  • Nymph or larva (synonyms, but nymph is a more accurate term)
  • Prepupa (optional stage depending on the species)
  • Pupa
  • Adult

Lifespan of thrips insects

Thrips lifespanTotal lifespan – from egg to death, a single thrips may live up to two months (60 days) if continuously active.

This of course depends on the species of thrips, but the average temperature is a big inflence, too.

  • Warm temperatures shorten their lifespan, whereas cool, mild temperatures help them live longer.
  • Sometimes winter will interrupt their development. Whatever the stage, the insect can hibernate until spring.

Male and female thrips lifespan

Additionally, adult female thrips live for quite a long time, too: usually around a month and a half, or 45 days. During this time, it lays batches of new eggs every few days if the feeding is good.

  • Males live for a much shorter period. Mating reduces their lifespan by half, down to about 30 days!
  • A female stores enough sperm from the mating encounter to fertilize eggs for its entire life!

Generations of thrips per year

From egg to adult, only 9 days to 1 month separate one generation from the next.

  • For most thrips species, the duration is two weeks.

Eggs, once lain, incubate for 2 to 16 days. They hatch into the first nymph.

Together, all stages from nymph to adult require at least 7 days and at most 15.

  • From spring to fall, which usually numbers 8 months, over a dozen generations might appear every year!
  • In tropical countries the weather is mild all year round. There may be over 40 generations of thrips!

For farmers and crops, devastation can be significant.

Thrips eggs

Thrips lifecycle eggsThrips eggs are lain in soft tissue using an ovipositor. This is a special organ that places the eggs in or on a leaf, stem or flower bud. Unlike other insects like the gall wasp, thrips only very rarely create galls.

In the picture, you can see white dots on the stem of a  Stephanotis vine. These are the laying spots for thrips.

Some thrips lay eggs on the surface of the plant, mostly those of the Tubulifera sub-order.

Nymph stage for thrips

What is a thrips instar?

Thrips first instarsLike many insects and even snakes, the skin of a thrips won’t grow. Thrips molt as they grow to shed old, tight skins. Each time a thrips molts, it enters a new stage. Each stage is called an “instar”.

For thrips, these stages include both nymph stages and pupa stages.

  • Nymph stages occur at the beginning. The shape and characteristics of the thrips remain the same, only the size is different. Most types of thrips have one or two nymph stages.
  • Prepupa and pupa stages are when the thrips transforms. For example, wings may appear compared to the previous wingless stage.

Nymph stage is for feeding

Thrips feed and grow during the nymph stages. They travel from one feeding site to another, usually on the same plant.

  • Like a mosquito, the nymph bites into a leaf and ingests the contents beneath the skin.

As they go around, nymphs also excrete waste. These tiny black pebbles look like dots strewn across the leaf. Sometimes these contain compounds that try to repel predator insects.

Prepupa and pupa thrips

Molting is how thrips growMost thrips species have both a prepupa and a pupa stage.

During these stages, the insect usually stops feeding.

Just like a caterpillar pupates in a cocoon to turn into a butterfly, the thrips nymph evolves into a full adult during the pupa phase.

Where to find thrips prepupa and pupa

Thrips will often travel to the ground to pupate. They hide in leaf debris, soil, and mulch. In fall, this is how most thrips prepare for winter.

  • In some cases, such as the ficus thrips, pupa and offspring hide in curled-up leaves.

Adult thrips

Adult eating pollen on a flowerAs adults, thrips have an additional goal in life: reproduction.

Through pheromones, females attract males. After mating the female starts laying eggs.

  • Females usually only mate once or twice. This provides enough sperm to fertilize all the eggs she might lay.
  • Males try to mate several times, and even fight other males for the right to mate with a nearby female.

Often, tiny wings help the thrips get airborn. Thrips aren’t good flyers, but they’re so small that wind easily carries them away to other plants.

Smart tip about the thrips lifecycle

Temperature plays a large part in how fast a thrips will develop. A change from 55°F to 75°F (13 to 23°C) will speed development by 30%! In warm weather, monitor your plants often to catch and control thrips early on!

Images: CC BY-NC 2.0: Ian Jacobs
CC BY-NC-SA 2.0: Philippe Garcelon
CC BY-SA 4.0: Dave Kirkeby, Dr. Guido Bohne
Contributor: Jane Dickson
Public Domain: Scot Nelson
CC BY 4.0: Kim & Forest Starr
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Your reactions
  • Rob wrote on 7 July 2023 at 18 h 35 min

    Very informative article, I’m using “Plant Therapy” to eradicate and seems to be working well, it helps to know there gestation. Period. Thank you.

    • Gaspard wrote on 10 July 2023 at 2 h 53 min

      Great that the article was of help to you. What particular “Plant Therapy” are using to treat against them?

  • Way wrote on 2 July 2022 at 15 h 55 min

    Thank you for the detailed and we’ll written article. I’ve been reading up a lot on thrips lately, and this one was the most detailed, organized, and easy to understand article I’ve encountered so far.
    Do the eggs laid inside the plant also have extra protection thanks to it’s shell? I’m wondering if the usual alcohol spray into these plant wounds would be enough to kill off the eggs.

    • Gaspard wrote on 6 July 2022 at 9 h 56 min

      Thanks for the “thumbs up”!
      The egg shells help protect the developing thrips inside from the plant’s immune system. It’ll also protect them against alcohol sprayed on them to some degree, but some will still die off.

  • Ronald Kasting wrote on 24 March 2021 at 22 h 11 min

    What is the best systemic insecticide to use on these very hard to control insects?

    • Gaspard wrote on 25 March 2021 at 12 h 31 min

      Hi Ronald, I’d be hard pressed to answer you since I’m not very familiar with insecticides of the chemical kind – especially systemic insecticides that travel in and around the plant. Usually for small populations a few runs of the hose or the vacuum are enough to control them. For larger infestations, it’s more relevant to work with beneficial insects. There are actually some thrips species that eat the pest-type thrips!