The Mighty Mites! Identify and manage red spider mite infestation

Mites are tiny insects that can attack your plants and hamper their growth and yield. One could easily confuse Red Spider mites with small spiders as these mites also spin protective webs. This silken web gives protection from predators; hence the common name as ‘spider’ mite. They go by the scientific name Tetranychus urticae. They belong to the family Tetranychidae, wherein nearly 1200 species can be found.

Red Spider mites appear as reddish/ greenish spots on the leaves and stems. Contrary to what the name indicates, these mites are found in varied colours, including red, green and yellow/orange.

 

Damage caused by mites

Mites are tiny insects that feed on plant tissues by penetrating the plant cells with their needle-like mouth-parts. They suck the juicy content from the plant parts thus giving the characteristic of ‘white/yellow specks’ If the damage is severe, complete defoliation (complete loss of leaves) of the plant can be observed. In some cases, you might observe stunted plant growth.

Mites infestations are generally seen in hot with dry conditions. They often target crops like peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, corn, cannabis, strawberries and in ornamental plants like the rose.

Mites have a high reproducing capacity in a short time.  They also seem to have an increased resistance to pesticides –  some pesticides not only failed on red spider mites but rather increased their spread by killing their ‘predators’ (i.e insects that feed on mites). Both these aspects have compounded the damage caused by these tiny creatures

Signs to watch out

  • Presence of spider webbing around leaf and stem of the plant.
  • Mite affected plants look unhealthy and will have a dusty appearance on the underside of the leaf.
  • If we look closely, we can spot the movement of these red mites which otherwise will seem like leaf spotting!
  • Most visible and characteristic sign is the presence of small white/yellow specks on the leaves.
  • These specks will enlarge and later merge with each other creating whitish to silvery transparent patches on the affected areas.

How to manage mites damage

In the case of the mighty mites, prevention is always better than cure. This of course is easier said than done! So we will look at other possible alternate means:

  • Ensure regular watering for the plants as these mites prefer dry and hot climate for the multiplication
  • Allow natural enemies like lacewings and ladybugs to feed on them
  • Predatory mites of the family Phytoseiidae like Phytoseiulus persimilis will eat the adult mites and eggs
  • Use of neem oil sprays at 20-30 ml per litre of water depending upon the infestation levels
  • Application of Harpin Alpha Beta (a protein which stimulates the plant’s natural defense system and helps in restoring the sap sugar levels and encouraging in replacement of damaged plant tissues
  • The last method is the use of the insecticide ‘Acaricides’

So don’t undermine the might of a mite!

Happy Gardening!

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.

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