A UF/IFAS assistant entomology professor shared information concerning a recent citrus pest, the lebbeck mealybug.

The lebbeck mealybug has so far been detected in commercial citrus groves in four Florida counties—Highlands, Hendry, DeSoto, and Hardee counties—since being detected in Highlands County in the middle of 2019. The pest is well-known in other citrus-focused parts of the world, like the Middle East and Africa, and it has been known to cause up to 70% fruit drop in heavily infested groves, according to a Growing Produce article. UF/IFAS Assistant Professor of entomology, Lauren Diepenbrock, presented on the pest at the 2019 Citrus Expo. Explore what to look for and current treatments for the pest below.

Identifying the Lebbeck Mealybug

According to the article, Florida’s hot, humid weather is ideal for the pest, and it can feed on a range of other plants, threatening other fruits, vegetables, field crops, and ornamentals in Florida. According to Diepenbrock, the insect reproduces quickly.

The mealybug can be identified by observing the “white, waxy, and gooey-type substance it deposits to protect eggs” that are located at “branch junctions, underneath calyx buttons/sepals, and the blossom end of fruit.” Diepenbrock maintained there is not a certain part of the tree the pests choose, so they could be anywhere.

Treating Lebbeck Mealybugs

Diepenbrock shared that it’s important to control an infestation because the insects are very mobile. “They are pretty mobile and can be easily moved by equipment, humans, and other animals. They can be wind-blown, and ants even farm them to harvest their honeydew. They may even be capable of walking between hosts,” she shared. She advised that machinery, tools, and equipment to be cleaned and sanitized between infected and non-infected groves, and to even change clothes and wash exposed skin between groves.

There are a number of treatments for lebbeck mealybugs, and UF/IFAS researchers are studying more. Treatments include:

  • Beneficial insects like lady beetles, predatory caterpillars and flies, and earwigs.
  • Chemical controls like Chlorpyrifos and acetamiprid; though chemistries currently being studies aim to have less of an impact on non-target insects.
  • According to the article, “applicators should increase gallonage and use oils, or surfactants.”
  • Another tip is to slow the sprayer down to ensure adequate chemical coverage, advising that “1.5 mph speed will ensure better coverage than 3 mph.”

Diepenbrock added that “The challenge has been getting the chemical through the ovisac (the waxy, gooey layer deposited by the mealybug). A two-pronged approached should be considered, using a systemic material to kill reproductive females and a contact spray when crawlers are out.”

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