SEBRING — With the Citrus Expo to take place Wednesday and Thursday in Lee County, local growers are hoping for good news on fighting mealybugs.
Ray Royce, executive director of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, told the Highlands News-Sun last week that he had not heard anything new on the pest since a seminar put on July 18 by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).
Royce hopes to hear more this week.
According to Lauren Diepenbrock, entomologist with IFAS, Highlands County definitely has the pest. A grower found the insect in groves in Avon Park and Sebring.
“It is definitely beyond one grove, and we suspect that it’s probably in other places throughout the state,” she told Citrus Industry News.
She has worked closely with growers as lebbeck mealybug finds continue to increase, Citrus Industry News reports. She suspects the pest has also spread to Saint Lucie County citrus, based on photos received from a grower.
According to Diepenbrock, one key sign growers should note is honeydew, a sweet, sticky substance like the fluid secreted by aphids and often deposited on leaves and stems.
At this time of year, she said, growers should be able to spot all reproductive stages of the lebbeck mealybug, from in-star nymphs to mature females. She also advises growers to look at the calyx, or button, of their fruit. Lebbeck mealybugs, she said “like to infest that area the most.”
One of the problems with lebbeck mealybugs, Diepenbrock said, is they tend to “make a lot of offspring” — approximately 1,000 juveniles each year from a single female.
While the pests cause leaf damage, the bigger problem is fruit damage, making it difficult to market, she said. The bug also can cause high amounts of fruit drop.
Historically, the pest was in citrus in the Middle East, South Africa, the Mediterranean and Australia, Citrus Industry News reports. In recent years, it has moved to more locations worldwide and onto several host crops.
To prevent the spread of possible infestations, Diepenbrock recommends growers clean equipment and tools before moving them from one part of a grove to another.
Citrus Industry News also reports that Diepenbrock believes long-term control of lebbeck mealybug may be possible with natural mealybug enemies in Florida.
According to IFAS, some common mealybug predators include brown lacewing, Sympherobius barberi (Banks) and green lacewing, Chrysopa lateralis Guérin, trash bugs, syrphid fly larvae, scale-eating caterpillars, and some lady beetles and wasps.
“I’m hopeful that will work,” she said.