The physical characteristics of adult mealybugs will vary depending on their gender. In the case of male mealybugs, they are very small and they have tiny wings. It is rare to see them causing an infestation in plants. The more common is the female mealybug, which has an oval body with soft-shell, which has an average length of 1.5 to 3mm. They have a white wax coating, which also provides them with protection. When they appear in clusters, they look like cotton.
Mealybugs are common pests in greenhouses or indoor plants, which are known as glasshouse mealybugs. They are common in places with a warm climate and appears throughout the year. They have a sucking long mouth that feeds on the host, taking out the sap from the plant tissue. However, there are also other species that feed on outdoor plants and some specifically attack the root. This specie is from the genus Rhizoecus, which feed on the ground.
How to Identify Mealybugs
The plants where mealybugs feed will depend on the specific specie of the pest that is present. For glasshouse mealybugs, they commonly thrive in household plants, such as orchids, tomato, passion flower, and African violets, among others. Those that survive outdoors, meanwhile, are common in apples, pears, grapes, and apricots.
Below are some of the most common symptoms of the presence of mealybugs:
- Most of the symptoms of the damages will be apparent on the leaves of the affected plants. It will turn yellow and will wilt. The discoloration and weakness of the plant are because it no longer has the nutrients it needs. The mealybugs suck it out of the plant tissue.
- You will also notice the appearance of a white waxy substance on the leaf. You will find orange-pink eggs attached on the underside of the leaf with damage.
- Aside from the leaves, the fruits will also be indicative of the damages. The pest can feed on the fruit when they are still young, which will inhibit growth and in turn, will drop prematurely.
- Other parts of the plant will be sticky, which is a result of the excretion of the mealybug. Through time, it will develop into a sooty mold. This will cause the different parts of the plant to turn black.
- With the roots, on the other hand, they will end up with white waxy cover.
Results of Infestation
In most cases, the result of the infestation of mealybugs is not as devastating as other common garden pests. However, when they are present in huge clusters, the problem multiplies, and hence, resulting in more concerning effects. The toxicity of the saliva of the pest makes it harmful for young plants. One of the most common effects is the disruption of their growth. Distortion of the plant is also a common occurrence, making it turn unsightly. Leaves will also drop even if the plant is still young. The same thing is true in the case of fruits. It can drop even before harvest and will make it unmarketable. When the infestation is huge, this can result in the death of host plants.
How to Get Rid of Mealybugs
Natural and Organic Solutions
For a safe but effective way to tackle the presence of mealybugs, below are some of the most effective solutions you might want to consider:
- Pruning is one of the easiest ways to get rid of mealybugs. You need to constantly trim your plants to make sure that it will not be a breeding ground for this pesky pest. If there is a heavy infestation, on the other hand, dispose the entire plant. This is a better solution than trying to salvage a plant that has no more hope.
- Physical removal of the mealybugs is also another initial course of action that you might want to consider. This is quite an exhausting task, but it will be a good way to prevent further damage to the plants. Start by spraying water on the leaves, which will make it easier to remove them from the surface. You can also use a wet cloth to pick them. After detaching the pest from the leaves, throw them in a bucket of soapy water.
- When it comes to biological controls, on the other hand, it will help if you will encourage natural predators in the outdoor garden. One of the best is Cryptolaemus montrouzieri or a ladybird. With a length of only about 3 to 4 mm, it can feast on mealybugs, making it easier to control their population.
- Another excellent choice for natural predators is parasitic wasps. You can release the wasps or you can also consider growing plants that will attract their presence in the garden. These wasps will feed on the larvae, but will not be effective once the pest turns into an adult.
- Green lacewings are also natural predators that are effective in the control of mealybugs. They are often a part of Integrated Pest Management approach. With a usual length of ¾ inch, they are reputable as voracious predators, especially when pests are still at their younger stage.
As much as possible, stay away from control measures that require the use of chemicals. They are toxic not only to mealybugs, but also to the other insects in the garden. They can cause harm to the environment in multiple ways. Chemical control is more common only if the infestation is large. The waxy cover in their body makes them more difficult to kill with chemicals. It is important to spray vigorously to kill the target. For ornamental plants, systemic neonicotinoid insecticide will work. For fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, deltamethrin, a form of contact action insecticide, is one of the most common choices.
How to Prevent Mealybugs
Keeping the plant in its tip-top condition is perhaps the best preventive measure. When it is at its healthiest state, it will be less vulnerable to infestation as against when it is already weak. With this, frequent watering and the use of natural fertilizers will help. When you notice that there is a part of the plant that is unhealthy, cut it out before the damage spreads to the healthy portions. Also, it will help if you can plant cultivars that are resistant to mealybugs.