Chilli Thrips a Potential Problem in CUPS

Tacy CalliesAll In For Citrus Podcast, CUPS, Pests

chilli thrips
Photo by Lance S. Osborne, UF/IFAS

A modified way of producing citrus in Florida to protect against the Asian citrus psyllid may provide shelter for another pest — chilli thrips.

Citrus under protective screen (CUPS) production systems protect against the psyllid and the huanglongbing (HLB) disease the pest transmits. However, according to University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) entomologist Lauren Diepenbrock, the minute chilli thrips can penetrate the system. 

“We’ve been having some issues with chilli thrips, which is a very, very small thrips species. It causes some damage to both the foliage and to the fruit crop,” Diepenbrock said. “This was actually a grower-identified issue. Last year, I was contacted by some growers who were seeing some really odd fruit damage. They weren’t sure what was going on. At first, I wasn’t sure, either. With some help of some really awesome scouts, we started finding chilli thrips.”

This pest is half the size of a typical flower thrip and difficult to see on plants. It favors fresh foliage and developing fruit. Damage renders fruit unmarketable.

Chilli thrips are not a problem in a traditional production setting due to predatory insects that feed on them in an open field. But in a CUPS setting, the large predators are not able to penetrate the screen.

The tiny chilli thrips, however, can enter the screen. “It is ridiculously small. Regular flower thrips can get through the screening if they really want to. It’s a little more effort, I think,” Diepenbrock said. “Chilli thrips are about 3 millimeters in length, very slim. They could shoot right through that 40 mesh and go to town.”

UF/IFAS researchers are also observing damage from this pest in nurseries on young trees. Scientists are studying biological control methods to help keep the pressure down.

This interview with Diepenbrock is featured in the July All In For Citrus podcast, a joint project of UF/IFAS and AgNet Media. Listen to the full podcast here.

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Clint Thompson