Quick Facts

  • Has two common names, Pink Meallybug and Hibiscus Meallybug, but there is an effort to have a standardized name, Pink Hibiscus Meallybug
  • Dangerous to many plants including grapevine, cotton, peanut, and especially hibiscus
  • Has a high reproductive rate (females can deposit up to 600 eggs) and produces up to 15 generations per year

Species Facts:

The Pink Hibiscus Meallybug, Maconellicoccus hirsutus, is a serious pest of many plants in tropical and subtropical regions, including Africa, southeast Asia, and northern Australia. It was found in the Caribbean in 1994 for the first time. It was discovered in Broward County, Florida on 13 June, 2002, then in Dade County, and has continued to spread.

Adult meallybugs are small (about 3 mm long) and pink in body color but covered with a waxy secretion. The waxy filaments are short and females are usually obscured by this white mealy wax. When adults are crushed their body fluids are also pink. Adult males are smaller than females, reddish brown and have one pair of wings. Males have two long waxy "tails."

Females die shortly after depositing eggs. Freshly-laid eggs are orange, becoming pink before they hatch. Eggs are found in egg sacs and overwinter in bark crevices, leaf scars, under bark, in the soil, tree boles, inside fruit clusters, and inside crumpled leaf clusters. First instar nymphs (crawlers) of the pink hibiscus meallybug disperse by walking and by wind. Nymphs also can walk considerable distances to find suitable host plants. This life cycle takes about 23 to 30 days.

Pink hibiscus meallybug feeds on the soft tissues of many plant species and injects toxic saliva that causes curling and contortion of leaves. The entire plant may be stunted and the shoot tips develop a bushy appearance. Buds may not flower and stems may twist. Fruit may also be deformed. The meallybug excretes honeydew which encourages the development of black sooty mold. Very high meallybug populations can kill plants.

The level of feeding damage depends on the vigor of the infested plant; seedling trees and weakened trees are more susceptible. Shoots become twisted with shortened internodes, forming bunchy heads of small bushy leaves at the tips. The curled leaves can resemble viral damage, but this pest is not known to vector any diseases. Heavy infestations of young plants by the pink hibiscus meallybug may stunt their growth.

The meallybug is found on stems, leaves, buds, fruit and roots of many plants. On hibiscus, the meallybug usually infests young twigs, causing deformed leaves, thickened twigs, and deformed terminal growth due to shortening of the internodes. In cotton, the growing parts are attacked, resulting in bunchy growth. Plants are stunted and produce fewer bolls of a smaller size. Boll opening is adversely affected and yield reduction occurs. In grapevines, the meallybug feeds on sprouts after pruning; heavily infested bunches shrivel and drop. In peanut, the meallybug can feed on the underground parts of the roots, pods, and pegs of the plant, resulting in stunted growth and poorly developed pods.

Crop production costs will be increased if growers attempt to manage meallybug populations by pesticide applications. Pesticide applications will disrupt the effective natural enemies of other crop pests, such as mites, scale insects, and whiteflies leading to the application of additional pesticides to control these pests. These additional pesticide applications can contaminate food, water and farm workers. Around the yard and home, insecticide use may also increase due to damage to ornamental plants, particularly hibiscus.

Portions of this article courtesy of: University of Florida Featured Creatures