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Protect Developing Fruit From Lebbeck Mealybugs

Daniel Cooper Pests, Tip of the Week

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Figure 1. Lebbeck mealybug feeding damage to fruit based on fruit developmental stage at infestation.
Images by L. Diepenbrock

By Lauren Diepenbrock

As the March bloom tapers off and fruit begin to set, it is time to think about lebbeck mealybug management to protect developing fruit. Damage to setting fruit causes malformed fruit that are often aborted or not marketable if they continue development (Figure 1). Early-season management is critical to both reducing early fruit damage and to maintaining reduced pest populations throughout the growing season.

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Figure 2. Seasonal population biology of lebbeck mealybug was determined using destructive sampling of 20 centimeter lengths of infested branches from six commercial farms in Central Florida.

Research conducted at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Citrus Research and Education Center showed that lebbeck mealybug populations are not tied to flush, which can make management of this pest challenging. However, there is generally an increase in the juvenile population beginning in late March and continuing into June (Figure 2). Survivors of this cohort will develop into the reproductive stages, continuing to produce offspring through the summer and fall. And while it appears that few juveniles survive to the adult reproductive stage, each female will produce around 1,000 eggs. This can lead to rapid population explosions, impacts on the overall health of trees and fruit damage.

Optimal management for this pest starts with a systemic chemistry prior to fruit set. Check the label for bee safety as flowers and the bees that are attracted to them are also present. In May or June, a contact chemistry that is also effective for Asian citrus psyllids should be applied to further reduce populations. During the peak of summer heat, mealybugs do not appear to proliferate at a similar rate to late spring and early fall. Population development picks up again in October, and crawlers can be suppressed with most contact chemistries. In addition to insecticides, many of the adjuvants currently in use in citrus add to juvenile, and sometimes adult, mortality.

Management for lebbeck mealybug is evolving and will change over time. Management actions discussed in this Tip of the Week reflect current knowledge of the pest and management options.

Lauren Diepenbrock is an assistant professor at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.

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