The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services has issued a pest alert for the lebbeck mealybug (Nipaecoccus viridis). The pest was found on June 14 in Highlands County. The sample was collected by UF/IFAS personnel on a citrus tree where a heavy infestation of white wax was spotted on branches and fruit. This represents the first find of the pest in a commercial citrus grove.
The lebbeck mealybug is approximately 4 millimeters (mm) long by 3 mm wide with body color black, purple to blue green with thick, white or pale-yellow. Females produce an ovisac with a wax that is sticky when touched. In high densities, waxy secretions may appear as a continuous layer of wax, which will obscure individual mealybugs. Wax may turn yellow in older infestations. Specimens do turn black in 70% alcohol. This might be a good, quick field diagnostic, but species confirmation will require slide mounting.
This is an agricultural pest in many parts of the world on a variety of agricultural crops. In Florida, citrus, cotton, ornamentals, and tropical plants would all be potentially impacted crops.
Lauren Diepenbrock, Assistant Professor of Entomology at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center, has set up field trials to test different approaches to manage the lebbeck mealybug under Florida growing conditions. Those recommendations will be forthcoming.
Because the pest moves accidentally quite easily, UF/IFAS researchers recommend power washing large equipment, sanitizing smaller tools using both bleach and water, and washing all clothing in hot water to help reduce the spread of this pest to new areas.
If residents find the bug in their backyard citrus, they should cut off the branch, double bag it, and place it in a trash can.