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MEALYBUGS: The Dreaded Pest. A Comprehensive Guide to Dealing with Mealybugs on Succulents.

Mealybugs, belonging to the Pseudococcidae family, comprises 250 genera and over 2,000 species of plant-sucking insects.


Types of Mealybugs
Fig 1 Types of Mealybugs - Shutterstock

Understanding Mealybugs and Their Impact on Your Succulents


While succulents are quite known for their resilience and ability to thrive in various conditions, they are not invincible to pests. One very common intruder that can wreak havoc on your beautiful succulents is the dreaded mealybug. Soft-bodied insects of different shapes and sizes feed on plant sap, causing stunted growth, yellow leaves, and possible death if not treated. In this blog, we will explore the different types of mealybugs, how to identify them, and more importantly, how to effectively treat and prevent infestations on your precious succulents.



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Identifying Mealybug Infestations on Succulents

Identifying a mealybug infestation on your succulents is the first step in combating these pests. Mealybugs are typically small, ranging from 1/20th up to 1/5th of an inch in size. They have a soft, oval-shaped body covered in a white, cottony substance.


Common visual signs of mealybugs include small to large clusters of white, fluffy masses on the inner corner of leaves, stems, and even the roots of succulents. These pests often hide in protected areas such as leaf axils, crevices, and the undersides of leaves.


Uhm.. What am I looking for exactly?
  1. Individual bugs on leaves/stems can also be in groups

  2. Small or large white patches of 'fuzz' looking cotton in crevecases and

  3. Waxy/web-like cottony substances

Understanding mealybugs and their impact on succulents is crucial for effective pest management. Identifying these pests is crucial for their effective treatment! If you are not sure what they look like scroll below for some photo images.

 

Types of Mealybugs


There are several species of mealybugs that commonly infest succulents. Below is a list, descriptions, and a few photos of the most common ones you might encounter.


  • A Mealybug (Vryburgia trionymoides) DeLotto

  • Citrus Mealybug (Planococcus citri) Risso

  • Long-tailed Mealybug (Pseudococcus longispinus)

  • Cactus Mealybug (Hypogeococcus festerianus)

  • Solanum Mealybug (Phenacoccus solani)

  • Mexican Mealybug (Phenacoccus gossypii)

  • Root Mealybug (Rhizoecus) *there are many kinds of root mealybugs in this subspecies

  • Madeira Mealybug (Phenacoccus madeirensis)

  • Vine Mealybug (Planococcus ficus)

  • Pink Hibiscus Mealybug (Maconellicoccus hirsutus)



PHOTOS

(click on any of the photos to be taken to their original website)

  • One of the most prevalent is a mealybug (Vryburgia trionymoides) DeLotto, this mealybug is pinkish-purple, with a light coating of white wax over the body, and thick white filaments arising from the tip of the abdomen. The pinkish-purple body color may be obscured by the powdery wax coating.

A mealybug (Vryburgia trionymoides) DeLotto. From left to right; adult females, mixed population, field appearance of V. distincta occurring on Echeveria sp.

 
  • Second most prevalent is the citrus mealybug (Planococcus citri), which have a pale yellow body covered in a white, waxy substance.

Citrus mealybug (Planococcus citri). From left to right; adult female, adult male, larvae.

 
  • Another common species is the long-tailed mealybug (Pseudococcus longispinus), characterized by its long, thread-like tails.

Long-tailed mealybug (Pseudococcus longispinus). From left to right; adult female, adult male, larvae.

 
  • Solanum Mealybug (Phenacoccus solani) This genus is the largest group in the Pseudococcidae.

(Phenacoccus solani) Ferris, 1918: From left to right; Population of P. solani, Field appearance of P. solani occurring on Echeveria sp.


 

Life Cycle of a Mealybug


The life cycle of most species is fairly similar, with females laying 300 to 600 eggs in compact waxy sacs attached to axils of stems or leaves. After egg laying, females die and the eggs hatch in 7 to 10 days into tiny yellowish crawlers (nymphs). The long-tailed mealybug is slightly different in that females give birth to living young. The complete life cycle can take six weeks to two months depending on the species and the environmental conditions.


Note - In the right conditions, breeding and development can happen all year-round, in controlled environments like greenhouses or indoors.



 

Treating Mealybugs On Succulents:


When it comes to treating mealybugs on succulents, there are various effective methods you can employ.


Step-by-Step Treatment Methods |

  1. Step #1 is quite crucial to stop any further spreading. Isolate plants that have been affected and quarantine them in a safe area away from other plants or materials you use for gardening.

  2. Remove them or wash them off.

  3. Repot and change the soil. Adult mealybugs and larvae may still be lurking deep in the roots making defeating them even harder.

  4. Continue treatments until the full life cycle has been killed off. This may take a few weeks up to few months.

Note: If you do not feel like treating, or the infestation is severe, bag the affected plants and throw them in the trash. Do not compost!


Removal Options:

  1. Option 1) One effective approach is manual removal.

    1. Using cotton swabs or alcohol-soaked cotton balls, gently dab and remove the mealybugs from the affected areas. This method is suitable for small infestations or isolated mealybugs, it can be painstaking to have to do for larger infestations.

  2. Option 2) Another popular option is using rubbing alcohol spray (isopropyl alcohol).

    1. You can use 70% or less, if using anything higher than 70%, make sure to mix equal parts of rubbing alcohol and water in a spray bottle. You may spray the alcohol directly on the affected areas. The alcohol will dissolve the waxy coating on the mealybugs, causing them to dehydrate and die. *Repeat this treatment every few days until the infestation is under control, you will need to do multiple treatments.

  3. Option 3) Insecticides

    1. For a natural approach, consider using organic remedies like, Insecticidal soap, made from natural fatty acids, it is an effective option. Apply the soap solution to the infested areas, ensuring thorough coverage


Homemade Insecticide:

A simple solution of dish soap, ACV and water can be effective in suffocating mealybugs.

  • Mix a few capfuls of apple cider vinegar and a few drops of Dawn dish soap in a spray bottle filled with water and spray it onto the infested areas.

Neem oil?

S&P does not personally recommend the use of neem oil for beginners, you will see this option listed in advice and other web sources. However, neem oil can cause your succulents to go mushy if not used properly. *Use at your own risk.


*Feel free to ask fellow members in Succulents & Propagation if they have ever used neem oil successfully and have photos they can share with you.



S&P Tip - Do not use any of these above treatments in sunlight - make sure to keep your plants out of any direct sun light while doing treatments, farina will be compromised during these times and sun exposure can cause irreversible damage.



**In severe infestations, chemical treatments may be necessary. Consult with a professional or your local garden center to select an appropriate insecticide specifically formulated for mealybugs. Follow the instructions carefully, taking necessary precautions to protect yourself, other plants, and the environment.

 

Prevention and Control Measures

Preventing mealybug infestations is always better than dealing with them later. Regularly inspect your plants, paying close attention to the undersides of leaves and the junctions between stems and leaves. If you introduce new succulents to your collection, quarantine them for a few weeks to prevent the spread of any potential infestations and spray them down with rubbing alcohol as a precaution.


Additionally, consider introducing natural predators like ladybugs, predaceous fly larvae, or green lacewings to control mealybug populations.


Mealybug destroyer (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri). Adult & larva.

 

Additional Tips and Considerations

  • While treating mealybugs, it's important to address other factors that contribute to their infestation. Proper watering and drainage practices are essential, as overwatering can create a damp environment that mealybugs thrive in. Pruning and removing heavily infested areas can help prevent the spread of mealybugs to healthy parts of the plant. Additionally, regularly clean and disinfect your gardening tools and containers to avoid reintroducing mealybugs or other pests.

  • In general, mealybugs directly damage the health condition of plants by sucking plant sap and the excretion of honeydew, which induces sooty molds that inhibit photosynthesis.


To create a healthy environment for your succulents, ensure they receive adequate sunlight and are planted in well-draining soil. Over-watering should be avoided, as it can create conditions favorable for mealybugs.

  • Keep a close eye on your succulents even after treatment, as mealybugs can be persistent. Monitor for any signs of reinfestation and take immediate action if necessary. By implementing these preventive measures and promptly treating mealybug infestations, you can ensure the health and beauty of your succulent collection.

 

Conclusion

Mealybugs can be a nuisance for succulent enthusiasts, but with proper identification and treatment, you can effectively control and prevent infestations. By creating a healthy environment for your succulents, regularly inspecting your plants, and employing treatment methods such as rubbing alcohol sprays or neem oil mixtures, you can keep these pesky pests at bay. Remember to practice good gardening habits, monitor your plants for any signs of reinfestation, and take proactive measures to maintain the health and vitality of your succulents. With a little care and attention, you can enjoy a thriving succulent collection free from mealybug troubles.

Photo Credit Sites & Info Sources


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