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Mealy Bugs in Spain • Ian


 The Mealybug Problem in Spanish Gardens

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Mealybugs - a pest insect we should all learn to dread on our plants! Their populations can creep up on you and be difficult to control. This is why it is important to treat plants once you find this pest.

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Identify mealybugs by looking on the undersides of leaves and around leaf joints. These insects look like small 1 to 4 mm balls of cotton. Mealybug damaged plants look withered and sickly and have sticky sap on the leaves and stems.

Covered with a fluffy, waxy coating, mealybugs tend to gather, often at a crotch or joint. Clusters of mealybugs look like a cottony mass. It is only on close examination that they are seen to be individual, soft bodied, very slow moving insects. But do not let this quiet-looking crew fool you. Even though mealybugs breed somewhat slower than other insects, they can slowly but steadily build up to quite dense and damaging populations.

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Newly hatched nymphs are light yellow and free of wax, but soon start to excrete a waxy cover. The immature “crawlers” are quite mobile and it is at this stage dispersal to new plant parts or new plant hosts occurs.

Immature males and females look similar, but they are very different as adults. The male looks like a gnat with one pair of wings. (Only the adult males fly). They are short lived and they do not eat much as adults. They only live so that they can fertilize the eggs.

The females do not have wings, and they move around with the help of their legs. Some mealybugs are more ornate than others, having filaments around the edge of their bodies or even “tails”. The females can lay several hundred eggs at a time in fluffy nests. However, after laying the eggs, the bug dies. The average lifespan of the mealy bug is from six weeks to eight weeks.

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What kind of damage do mealybugs do?

Mealybugs suck the fluids from leaves and stems, robbing plants of essential nutrients. They feed on all parts of the plant, but especially on tender new growth. Leaves wither and yellow and if a cluster of mealybugs feeds along a fruit stem, fruit drop can occur.

Once the crawler selects a feeding site, it inserts its mouthpart (called a stylet) and begins feeding on plant sap. While eating, a sticky waste substance is excreted by the insect (commonly called honeydew). This liquid adheres to leaves and provides a medium for sooty mold to colonize and grow. Sooty mold is black and eventually covers leaves and stems. This mold inhibits infected portions of the plant from photosynthesizing and causes aesthetic damage.

In addition to the sooty mold, plant damage is caused by the mealybugs sucking plant sap and the pests’ toxic saliva, both resulting in distorted plant growth and premature leaf drop. Plant leaves also develop yellow chlorotic spots.

Mealybugs are very destructive, and they are the biggest destroyer of crops next to ants. In fact, ants "farm" mealybugs for their honeydew secretions like they do with aphids. Wherever there are ants there will often be mealybugs.

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How to get rid of mealybugs:

Getting rid of mealybugs is not easy and for large or widespread infestations, you will need regular applications (weekly for several weeks). A single application will often not be sufficient to eliminate all the insects, their eggs, and their young.

Insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils (including Neem oil) work great in controlling this pest. However, horticultural soaps and oils do not have systemic properties, which means when spraying, the product must come in contact with the pest. There are also numerous chemical products available for the control of mealybugs and for heavy infestations this is your best option.

Before applying insecticides/pesticides, removing the fluffy nests and most insects is advisable. It greatly increases the chance for complete elimination of the bugs. Good hygiene is also important as mealybugs love to hide under dead leaves or flowers or other places where you and your insecticide spray cannot reach.

Always make sure that the plants have been watered thoroughly before you plan on any treatment measure. If the plant is wilted, then do not spray the insecticide or any insecticidal spray.

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Treatment:

First spray a strong jet of water directly on to the affected area or the entire plant. The stream washes the insects off - make sure you get all their hiding places.

  Then spray the entire plant and the surrounding area thoroughly with pesticide. This stuff is toxic and you want to check the label for correct use. A systemic insecticide such as “Confidor” by Bayer usually works well. This systemic insecticide targets the bad sucking insects while being soft on the good predators such as ladybirds, hoverflies, spiders and predatory mites.

  If the infestation persists try altering your weekly treatment with a contact insecticide containing malathion. And always spray in the evening after the sun has gone down to avoid leaf-burn or harming bees.

Remember to keep an eye on your plants to avoid future infestation. If you catch it early it is much easier to get rid off and biological treatment methods will be sufficient.

 

Marc Vijverberg

Marc Vijverberg and Gurli Jakobsen

638 180 284
659 880 444

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