A new tropical pest has invaded South Florida, threatening local landscapes and nurseries. The pink hibiscus mealybug (PHM, or Maconellicoccus hirsutus) has been found in several locations in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
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Infestations of this potentially serious pest in Miramar have prompted the Division of Plant Industry to start releasing parasitic wasps (Anagyrus kamali and Gryranusoidea indica) in a number of sites in southwestern Broward County. The USDA's Offshore Biological Control Initiative has run several successful studies with these wasps in the Caribbean in the last 10 years and has seen a 60 to 80 percent reduction of PHM within six months of their release. Also, our natural population of predaceous lady beetles such as Cryptolaemus montrouzieri have been observed eating the PHM.
The PHM adult females are wingless, about an eighth of an inch long, and pinkish in color, with a reddish-pink body fluid. Eggs and crawlers are pinkish also. The insects may be covered with a white, waxy material. Males have one pair of wings and are smaller than the females.
The PHM occurs in most tropical areas of the world. While the mealybug has been spotted primarily on hibiscus plants, it could potentially attack more than 200 different host plants. The following are just a few: tropical and subtropical fruits such as papaya, mango, passion fruit, avocado, citrus, guava, banana, carambola; vegetables such as tomato, beans, cucumbers, okra, peppers, squash; and ornamental species such as allamanda, anthurium, bougainvillea, croton, ficus, ginger, heliconia, ixora, hibiscus, palms, oleander.
PHM feeds on the soft tissues of plants and injects toxic saliva that causes curling and contortion of leaves, often followed by defoliation. Symptoms may also include bunched or unopened leaves, distorted or bushy shoots, and white, fluffy masses on buds, stems, fruit, and roots. Fruits may appear small and deformed. Unopened flowers may shrivel and die.
If you believe you may have plants infested with PHM, call the toll-free Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services helpline at 1-888-397-1517, or visit their Website and the USDA's Website. Homeowners are strongly encouraged not to spray for mealybugs, including the use of soaps and oils. Any spray can kill the beneficials being released.