Mealybugs: How to Get Rid of the Pests

Mealybugs are small, soft-bodied slow-moving insects about 1/8 to 1/4 inch long with two tails. They are easy to see because their bodies are covered with a white waxy material that makes them look like small masses of cotton.

These pests are usually found in cottony clusters at the leaf nodes and the axils (where the leaf attaches to the stem), and on undersides of leaves along the veins.

One species lives in the soil and feeds on the roots.

They have sharp mouthparts that pierce plant tissue and suck the sap. These bugs excrete a sticky gel called honeydew which encourages the growth of sooty mold. This black coating blocks the leaf pores and prevents photosynthesis. These pests cause yellowing, deformed leaves, and plant death.

Females may lay up to 600 eggs  in a cottony-like ovisac beneath her body. These eggs hatch in 6 to 14 days and become "crawlers" that  spread about to find feeding sites on new plant parts.  They then move on to other parts of the plant causing more serious infestations.

The longtailed types, do not lay eggs, but bear their young as active crawlers.

The crawler stage is the most fragile and easily controlled stage in the bug's life history.  Once they insert their sharp mouthparts to feed, they generally remain anchored permanently. These "crawlers" begin to feed and form waxy coatings which repels pesticides. .

How to Get Rid of Mealybugs

1. Wash them away with a steady stream of water if the infestation is light.

2. Wipe off pests and their egg sacs with a damp cloth or use cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol to remove them.

3. Thoroughly spray both sides of leaves, stems, and soil with insecticidal soap for serious infestations.

4. Spray plant with a solution of neem oil. The oil has systemic benefits and doesn't need direct contact with the bugs. It works as a pest repellent and a fungicide to control powdery mildew. It also affects their life cycle by stopping reproduction. It is non toxic and can be used on vegetables as well as ornamentals.

5. Keep plants healthy and stress-free to fight off these destructive pests.

Caution: When treating any houseplant pests with insecticides, read the label carefully and use outdoors when possible. Keep all pesticides out of reach of small children and pets.

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