Madeira mealybug on Coleus. Photo: Erfan Vafaie, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
Article author: Extension Entomologist at Overton
Most recently reviewed by: Suhas Vyavhare & Extension Entomologist at Weslaco (Vacant) (2020)
Common Name(s): Mealybug
Pseudococcidae, commonly known as mealybugs, are a family of scale insects that suck on plant sap, inject plant toxins, produce honeydew, and are consequently associated with growth of sooty mold. Most economically important mealybugs can lay several clusters of eggs within a white waxy enclosure, referred to as an ovisac (Downie & Gullan 2004), whereas other female scales can only produce one ovisac. Over 2,000 species of mealybugs have been described (Ben-Dev et al., 2003), of which ~20% are polyphagous, feeding on plants from several families (Miller et al., 2002). Most mealybug species have males and females and produce sexually, although there are some that are parthenogenetic (Downie & Gullan 2004); a form of asexual reproduction in which mating with males is not needed to produce offspring. Females resemble immature stages, whereas males metamorphose into winged forms.
Some common species of economic importance in Texas include the madeira mealybug, citrus mealybug, and pink hibiscus mealybug.
Mealybugs resembling the citrus mealybug. Photo: Erfan Vafaie, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
Mealybugs resembling the citrus mealybug on hibiscus flower. Photo: Erfan Vafaie, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
Breadfruit mealybug on Soursop in Guyana, South America. Photo: Erfan Vafaie, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
Pink hibiscus mealybug, Maconellicoccus hirsutus. Photo: Jeffrey W. Lotz, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bugwood.org
Females of the most common mealybug species lay eggs within ovisacs; a white filamentous protective covering. Eggs can take between 3 to 16 days (or longer) to hatch (Chong et al. 2015; Myers 1932), depending on temperature and species. Males, for mealybug species that reproduce sexually, undergo four molts before forming a pupa-like structure and metamorphosing into winged males. Depending on the species, males can already produce the cottony cocoon by the second molt (Myers 1932). Females undergo three molts prior to maturing and laying eggs. Females can lay 300 – 400 eggs, on average, in their lifetime (Myers 1932; Amarasekare et al. 2008). Full life cycle from egg to adult is typically between 23 – 75 days, depending on temperature and species (Amarasekare et al. 2008; Chong et al. 2015; Myers 1932). Female mealybugs can feed throughout all life stages, whereas males often lose mouthparts and cease feeding by second and third instar.
Winged adult male pink hibiscus mealybug. Photo: Florida Division of Plant Industry, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bugwood.org
Eggs of citrus mealybug. Photo: Erfan Vafaie, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
ManagementIf you live in the State of Texas, contact your local county agent or entomologist for management information. If you live outside of Texas, contact your local extension for management options.
Mealybug populations can increase rapidly and be very challenging to manage due to the high reproductive capacity of females, dispersal ability, and ability to feed on several different plant species. Highly infested materials should be bagged and removed, where possible. In the landscape, several naturally occurring predators and parasitic wasps help suppress mealybug populations, including several species of lady beetles, predatory flies, parasitic wasps, and lacewing larvae (Chong et al. 2015); as such, care should be taken to reduce applications of pesticides that can have a greater impact on natural enemies (predators and parasitoids) than the mealybugs. Due to the diversity of mealybug species and scenarios in which they can be encountered (greenhouse, nursery pad, interiorscapes, field agriculture, etc.), insecticidal treatments should be sought for specific-use applications. Consult the relevant publications, management guides, or your local extension county agent for management options.
Mealybug destroyer, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri, feeding on mealybug.
Photo: Sonya Broughton, Department of Agriculture & Food Western Australia, Bugwood.org
Hodges et al. Mealybugs & Mealybug Look-Alikes of the Southeastern United States. PDF Download
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Chong, J.H., L.F. Aristizábal and S.P. Arthurs (2015). Biology and management of Maconellicoccus hirsutus (Hemiptera: Pseudococcidae) on ornamental plants. Journal of Integrated Pest Management, 6:1–14.
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Myers, L. E. (1932). Two economic greenhouse mealybugs of Mississippi: The citrus mealybug and the Mexican mealybug. Journal of Economic Entomology, 25(4): 891 – 896.