Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wild and Wooly

When I started this job 14 years ago I'd get lots of stuff in the mail. Sometimes the packages would be dripping strange fluids, emitting strange odors and containing strange life forms. These days with email and digital photography I'm mostly spared these surprises but there are still things that require a sample. The pest below is a good example of this. What you see is a citrus whitefly. Now 'citrus whitefly' is a term for any of three different species of whitefly that currently infest citrus trees.

Sample of citrus leaves with wooly whitefly infestation. 

The sample you see on the left is a lemon tree that has been infested with citrus whitefly. Notice the fuzzy white patches. These patches are the reason I needed to see this sample. When this had been originally described to me it was described as a 'fungus'.

Now of the three whiteflies that infest citrus here this one appears to be the 'wooly whitefly'.

Now if you look closer (the lower two images were taken with a magnifier) you'll notice that the 'fungus' looks more like cotton and that there are what look like scale insects surrounding the fuzzy stuff. These 'scales' are actually the immature (nymphal) stages of the whitefly. These 'nymphs' will eventually cover themselves in a cottony tuft of wax fibers (the 'wool' in the pests common name)  that the exude from their bodies. This wax serves to protect them from predators and it also repels water (that's why most contact insecticides will not control them very well).

Some methods of control that do work are:
1. Pruning the tree to increase air circulation.
2. Spraying horticultural oil solution on the tree. This has to be done during the cool time of year or else the oil spray will damage or kill the citrus tree's foliage.
3. Decreasing the amount of nitrogen that the tree receives. Instead of feeding three times a year feed just once.  If you feed citrus too frequently their sap's concentration of nitrogen goes up. Since nitrogen is the limiting factor in the growth of the pests (they've got all  the sugar they need for energy -what they need is nitrogen to form the proteins of their body tissues) if you over fertilize you're practically sending out an invitation to white flies and pests like them to infest your trees. Use organic fertilizers because their availability coincides with the availability of the natural predators that keep the white fly under control -in other words when its warm outside there are lots of predators to control the whiteflies so that is the ideal time you want fertilizer to be available to your citrus trees.  Do not use fertilizers that are immediately available to the plant like ammonium nitrate and urea (found in commonly available water soluble  fertilizers like 'Miracle-Gro').

For more information on control of this whitefly download this PDF:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post. Just saw this on my citrus trees in Northern CA. Good to know it's not fungus.