Lebbeck mealybugs, found for the first time in Florida citrus in June in Highlands County, have now been confirmed in Hardee, DeSoto and Hendry county groves. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry (DPI) verified the pest finds.
Lauren Diepenbrock, University of Florida entomologist, has been working closely with growers as the lebbeck mealybug finds continue to increase. Although she has not yet received DPI confirmation, she suspects the pest is also in Saint Lucie County citrus, based on photos she received from a grower.
“It’s probably more widespread than that,” Diepenbrock says of the recent multi-county finds. “We just haven’t found it … yet.” It’s also possible some growers may be unknowingly managing it, she adds.
According to Diepenbrock, one of the key signs growers should be scouting for is honeydew. At this time of year, all reproductive stages of the lebbeck mealybug can be seen, from in-star nymphs to mature females. She also advises growers to look at the calyx of their fruit. Lebbeck mealybugs “like to infest that area the most,” she says.
“Look at your fresh flush,” Diepenbrock advises. “Anywhere that you have fresh growing leaf material or fruit, that’s where they want to be.”
While looking for honeydew is a good starting point, Diepenbrock says some growers found individual white clumps of lebbeck mealybugs by chance, without spotting any honeydew.
Her priority now is to work on management recommendations for growers. While lebbeck mealybugs have natural enemies like lady beetles, lacewings and predatory wasps, flies and caterpillars, Diepenbrock says these biological controls have not been enough to adequately knock back lebbeck mealybug populations. Therefore, she is beginning chemical control trials and expects to have information on what is working best in a few weeks.
Hear more from Diepenbrock:
Diepenbrock also discusses the lebbeck mealybug in the current episode of the All In For Citrus Podcast.
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