Small but Destructive: Hibiscus Mealybug Emerges as Concerning Pest of Florida Fruits, Ornamentals, Some Row Crops
By Lauren Diepenbrock, Ph.D.
Hibiscus mealybug (Nipaecoccus viridis) is a mealybug known by many names across the world and is regionally referred to as the “lebbeck mealybug” in Florida. There, this mealybug is emerging as a multi-crop pest, though it is currently restricted to Florida.
In a new guide published last week in the open-access Journal of Integrated Pest Management, several colleagues and I share that the hibiscus mealybug has been documented thus far on 51 host plants, with more expected based on the known range of this pest throughout the world. In Florida, our most impacted crop to date has been citrus, a crop already weakened by an incurable disease, huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening disease.
However, the hibiscus mealybug’s affinity for landscape plants such as gardenia, jasmine, and oleander; fruit crops including citrus, blueberry, and grape; and row crops including cotton, soybean, and hemp—along with its wide range of suitable temperatures—is raising concern about potential long-term impacts. To date, this invasive pest has been documented in open production fields, some nurseries, and in residential plantings.
In addition to the challenges already listed, the hibiscus mealybug is incredibly small and easy to miss when inspecting plants. Eggs are fully enclosed within ovisacs, which are more visible than the individual life stages. Crawlers are about the size of a grain of pepper (0.5-by-0.23 millimeters) and have a high dispersal capacity, and older nymphs increase in size until they develop into adult females, which are still quite small, only 3-by-4 mm before ovisacs are produced. And you will be lucky to spot a male, which are small, winged, and short lived. Unfortunately, males are also unnecessary for reproduction, so one female crawler, if it survives, could start a new infestation on its own on a different host.
In our article in JIPM, led by graduate student David Olabiyi and former postdoctoral researcher Eric Middleton, Ph.D., we worked with colleagues to develop an overview of hibiscus mealybug’s biology, current management practices, and a field guide to identification. The article provides critical information to our colleagues that may be faced with responding to this pest in the future. We hope that, as we develop detection and management tools, they will be implemented to reduce long-term impacts of hibiscus mealybug.
Journal of Integrated Pest Management
Lauren Diepenbrock, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of entomology and an extension specialist at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, Florida. Email: email@example.com.