Crawlers with no legs, a species with no males, and broody females who keep thousands of eggs warm and safe - what are these garden pests? Citricola scale.
Native to Japan and southern China, citricola scale is currently found in California, Arizona, and Maryland, and in several other countries. Also known as grey citrus scale, citricola scale (Coccus pseudomagnoliarum) can be found feeding on citrus and pomegranate twigs in spring and early summer, and immature scale insects can be found feeding on the underside of leaves in late summer and fall. In addition to feeding on pomegranate, lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit, these sap-sucking pests also feed on elm, bay laurel, hackberry, and oleander.
Citricola scale lifecycle
There are only female citricola scale insects. They reproduce asexually (parthenogenesis). Each female can produce between 1,000 and 5,000 eggs during the summer. She will keep her eggs safe under her body until they hatch out in to crawlers, usually from June through August. That may sound like a crazy broody season, but citricola scale eggs hatch after only 2 or 3 days. The babies that come out of those eggs are called crawlers. The name crawlers sounds a little misleading because they don’t look as though they could do anything. But they do. These crawlers move to a good feeding site, attach themselves, becoming sessile (fixed), and feed until they molt into second instar nymphs, usually around November. These nymphs produce a lot of honeydew and are often protected and farmed by ants.
Citricola scale description
Citricola scale start out as a yellow, oval egg. First instar crawlers are oval, flat, and nearly translucent. Sometimes they are yellowish-green to brown. Second instars are mottled brown. Citricola scale adults are one-quarter of an inch long, grey, oval, and flat. Well, slightly convex, but flat enough. They can be difficult to see because they start taking on the color of the twig to which they are attached. Citricola scale are often confused with brown soft scale.
Citricola scale or brown soft scale?
Citricola scale tends to have only one or two generations each year, while brown soft scale can have multiple generations going at any one time. This means that citricola scale insects you see will nearly always be at the same life stage, while brown soft scale specimens may be at any life stage. Also, adult citricola insects are grey, while brown soft scale adults are brown or yellow.
Damage caused by citricola scale
Underneath those tiny domes of protection, citricola scale attach themselves to stems and leaves of citrus and pomegranate. They pierce the surface to reach the phloem, to siphon away valuable nutrients and sugary sap, weakening the tree. And they poop. This poop, called honeydew, contains a lot of sugar, and it creates the perfect growing medium for sooty mold fungus. Sooty mold blocks photosynthesis, further reducing your tree’s vigor. Citricola scale can reduce flowering and fruit production. During heavy infestations, twigs can be killed by citricola scale.
How to control citricola scale
Regularly monitoring citrus and pomegranate trees for these pests is your first line of defense. If you notice ant trails or sooty mold, take a closer look at twigs and leaves for signs of scale. Since ants protect these pests, you can eliminate that protection, making the citricola scale more vulnerable, by wrapping the tree’s trunk with a sticky barrier. Also, there are naturally occurring parasitic wasps that will control citricola scale insects (as long as you do not apply broad spectrum pesticides). Applying dormant oil in winter can also help reduce citricola scale populations.
Research has shown that 40% of citricola scale in San Joaquin Valley are resistant to organophosphates. It is believed that there is also a cross-resistance to malathion and carbaryl. This looks to be yet another example of chemical pesticides actually making the pests stronger, as we add more poisons to the environment and our food chain.
Bottom line, to control citricola scale on your pomegranate and citrus trees, inspect twigs very closely in April through June, and then look at the underside of leaves in late July. These pests can then be flicked off the leaf or stem with your fingernail.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!