Garden Word of the Day
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Mealybug destroyers, also known as mealybug ladybirds, are close cousins to our beloved lady beetle, or lady bug. In fact, many members of the Coccinellidae (kox-ih-NELL-a-DEE) family are beneficial predators, but not all. With a name like mealybug destroyers, you know that your garden plants are going to love this tiny beastie!
Mealybug destroyers (Cryptolaemus montrouzier) are native to Australia. They were brought to the U.S. in 1891 to combat California’s citrus mealybugs. Most mealybug destroyers cannot handle cold temperatures, but some populations have remained along coastal areas.
Mealybug destroyer identification
Like their close cousin, the lady bug, mealybug destroyer adults have the same dome-shaped body and short, stubby antennae. [That's a pretty cute little face, too, wouldn't you agree?] Mealybug destroyers, however, have black wing cases (elytra), with orangish-brown shoulders and rear end. Adults are only 1/6 of an inch log, so you may never notice them. If you decide to take a closer look with a hand lens, you might be able to see that females have dark brown forelegs and males’ forelegs are light brown. The larval forms, which can reach 1/2 inch in length, are often mistaken for wooly aphids or mealybugs, because of their elongated, alligator shape and waxy, white filament covering. Yellow eggs are laid near mealybug eggs for easy access to their favorite food supply.
Mealybug destroyer diet
A single mealybug destroyer may eat 250 mealybugs in its short lifetime. They also feed on soft scale insects. And it is not just the adults who hunt down and kill our garden enemies. While adults chomp and chew, larval forms pierce and suck the life juices from many sap-sucking garden pests.
So, why would a gardener care about mealybugs? Cousin to aphids and whiteflies, mealybugs are sap eaters. They feed on new buds, shoots, and leaves, causing erratic or reduced budbreak, slowed growth, and twig dieback. Mealybugs are frequent pests to basil, grapes, stone pine, pomegranate, chamomile, apple, plum, pear, peach, ferns, orchids, and, well, quite honestly, pretty much everything growing inside or outside of your home. Mealybugs produce honeydew, which provides the perfect growth medium for sooty mold. They can also carry bean mosaic. That’s why.
Attracting mealybug destroyers
It is highly unlikely that there are any mealybug destroyers in your neighborhood to attract. They simply cannot handle winter weather. So, you will probably have to buy mealybug destroyers each spring. What you can do, to prevent them from flying away as soon as they arrive, is to provide biodiversity. This means installing a wide variety of plants, with various heights, shapes, and colors. And avoid those broad spectrum insecticides.
Mealybug destroyers may not occur naturally in the Bay Area, but they sure can help maintain the balance of power in your foodscape!
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