Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ficus Whitefly: New Pest Showing Up Here Can Defoliate Ficus Hedges

Ficus benjamina leaves showing whitefly eggs and yellow mottling from feeding stress.
I have had numerous reports now of a new pest that is attacking and defoliating ornamental (but not edible ficus). The ficus whitefly has been showing up in the San Gabriel Valley this summer and fall after first appearing last year in west L.A.. The pest is recognized by the presence of small, white flying insects, egg cases that appear to be scale, and an immature form that looks like a crawling mealybug. Heavy infestations are usually accompanied by copious deposits of sooty mold covered honeydew. The combination of the stress put on the plant by the feeding of the insect and the decreased amount of sunlight the leaves receive due to the sooty-mold covered honeydew deposits can cause the ficus plant to completely defoliate.

  

Heavily infested Ficus benjamina leaves showing egg casings and yellowing leaves due to feeding damage.

Above: Ficus whitefly egg casing just above a hatched lace-wing egg casing. The lace-wing eats the whitefly.
So right now the only treatment for these pests are to use soil drenches of imidacloprid. Since Ficus plants do not produce bee attracting blooms this shouldn't be a problem for bees (make sure you have no bee attracting plants anywhere near the area where you are applying the imidacloprid).

Here's a video produced by Florida state agricultural officials regarding the pest:

Luckily, as the picture of the hatched-out lacewing egg casing shows, local predators will acquire a taste for these pests and over the next several years and infestations will become less and less damaging. Still, this is not the first, nor the last pest to attack the ubiquitously planted Ficus plant; here is a list of other ficus pests to look out for. 
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