In our current series of getting acquainted with common house pests, today, we will familiarize ourselves with a white colored almost invisible to the naked eye beauty – The mealybug
What are mealy bugs?
Mealybugs are soft-bodied, oval-shaped, wax-covered insects. They belong to the order Hemiptera and family Pseudococcidae. They are prevalent in crops like fruits crops (Ex. citrus) and other tropical fruits (mango, grapes, pineapple), vegetables like potatoes and in ornamental plants. Found most easily in warm climates; they seem to be able to flourish in a greenhouse of all climatic regions.
How do these harm plants?
Unlike aphids, mealybugs suck the juice from the tender parts of the plants also – Mainly in roots or other crevices. They act as vectors for many viral disease transmissions. Also, they inject toxic saliva into the plant tissues and secretes honeydew causing sooty mold fungal growth.
Mealybugs attach themselves to the plants and secrete a white powdery wax layer (hence they possess the name mealybug), which helps them to protect them and their young on the host plants and this is one of the main reason, where these insects cannot be easily killed by the insecticides application as they fail to penetrate the insect body wall.
The female mealybugs never grow wings, but male insects possess two wings, and these will live only for short period. These male insects do not feed on the plants and exist only to reproduce.
Symptoms of damage / Signs to watch out for
- Reduced growth of the plants as these sucks the sap from the growing tender parts.
- Premature dropping of fruits and stunted plant growth indicate the presence of mealy bugs on the crop.
- Yellowing, withering and falling of leaves from the plants.
- Inspection of the mealy bugs before installing any new indoor plants.
- Check for insects under the leaves and roots and collect and destroy them.
- Avoid application of excess nitrogen fertilizers as it stimulates tender new plant growth as well as mealy bug egg production.
- Avoid growing mealy bug prone crops/plants at least for a year or two to reduce the population density.
- Keep ants out of the mealybug infested area as they can protect them from natural enemies.
- Introduce naturally occurring predators of mealy bugs (like a wasp, ladybird beetles, lacewings)
- Sprays of Insecticidal soaps can be very useful when combined with natural predators of the mealybug to control them effectively.
- Insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils like neem oil provides some suppression of population.
- On large sturdy plants, high pressure or forcible water spray will reduce the population of the mealybugs effectively.
Sushma completed her B. Sc. from College of Horticulture, Hiriyur and M. Sc. from College of Horticulture, Bengaluru. She is an avid gardener with expertise across soil based and soilless gardening techniques using substrates.