What is a mealybug?

Mealybug: have you ever heard of it or had to deal with it? If you have landed on this page, chances are you are stuck with this little animal and are looking for a solution to get rid of it. Mealybug is - as the name suggests - a species of louse about 5 millimetres in size. The mealybug gets its name from the white, 'wool-like' fur it is covered with. Secretions of the mealybug, which look like tiny dust particles, can sometimes be found on your houseplants, which the mealybug likes to dwell on. Like many other lice, the mealybug feeds on the sap of plants. They do so by poking a small hole in the leaf and slurping the sap from it. Because the mealybug has relatively strong armour, it can withstand temperatures as low as -40°C and is therefore often difficult to get rid of. In addition, the mealybug reproduces quickly and easily. This means that you quickly have to deal with a whole bunch of mealybugs, which normally live in relatively large groups on the plants. So you often find so-called hot spots on the leaves of your houseplants and can therefore probably easily identify the mealybug.

Where does the mealy bug come from?

You know you want to get rid of mealybugs, but now you may be wondering: where do mealybugs come from? We still cannot say for sure where this particular type of louse comes from. Some mealybugs travel with you in your clothes and the wind: others enter the house through new plants from the nursery or shop. A mealybug does not usually move around quickly: in fact, once they have found a nice spot, they like to stay there for a long time. However, there are species of mealybugs that do like to move. Preventing mealybugs is therefore difficult. Yet there are some things you can take into account. A plant in a draught, for example, is at greater risk of attracting mealybugs because it acts as a kind of runway, making it attractive for the aphids to come and explore new territory. Fortunately, there are several ways to control mealybugs organically: read on and let us walk you through the options.

Mealybugs are often found in warmer climates such as greenhouses and even indoors, on your houseplants. According to Planet Natural, they are soft, cotton-like insects that are wingless, lay eggs and eventually form en masse. They feed on unsuspecting houseplants with their needle-like mouths, sucking sap from the leaves. Damage at low infestation levels is often negligible, but in larger numbers they can cause yellowing and curling of leaves and fungal growth.

Fighting mealybug: different options

Controlling mealybugs can be done organically and thus planet-friendly. One such option involves the deployment of parasitic wasps. Parasitic wasps are deployed because they are a natural enemy of mealybugs. Why? Wasps have the ability to lay eggs in, or on, other insects. By making a small hole in the insect with their so-called 'ovipositor', they can penetrate and lay their eggs in what they consider the ideal spot. Some parasitic wasps additionally inject a paralysing or even lethal poison into the insect that has been chosen as a nest. The mealybug is an example of an insect in which the parasitic wasp likes to lay its eggs. Parasitic wasps do not have the external characteristics you are used to from a 'regular wasp': they look more like a large mosquito with relatively long blades and a 'tail'. They have a slender waist and clear relatively long wings. They can grow from half to 30 millimetres in size, depending on the species.

mealybugs control

How are parasitic wasps deployed?

There are several species of parasitic wasps. The Leptomastix dactylopiii, Leptomastidae abnormis and the Allotropa musae parasitic wasps are the most effective against mealybugs and are also good for preventive use. These parasitic wasps lay eggs. They already do so when mealybugs are not yet visible to the naked eye. As long as lice are present, the parasitic wasps can reproduce. The parasitic wasps themselves are about half a millimetre and therefore difficult to see with the naked eye.  

You've decided to use parasitic wasps to tackle the mealybug problem. What next? You can now very easily order parasitic wasps online. You will then receive a package at home that contains a card with parasitic wasp eggs. Of course, instructions will be included, but don't worry: the process is not complicated and you don't need to have any knowledge or skills to do it.

2,000 parasitic wasp eggs are enough to treat about 15 square metres of surface area. These eggs are delivered via a card, which you should hang close to where the mealybugs have nested. When doing so, keep in mind that the parasitic wasps will have enough room to fly. Furthermore, parasitic wasps are very sensitive as they are small and light animals: care should therefore be taken not to set them up near open windows or an extractor. When the job of the parasitic wasp is done, and the parasitic wasp can no longer lay new eggs because all mealybugs have died, the parasitic wasp will also die and the mealybug problem is solved. It is recommended to repeat this treatment after 2 weeks to ensure that the parasitic wasps have dealt with all mealybugs.

Mealybugs and houseplants

So a mealybug needs a plant to feel at home. Mealybugs can be found on almost any plant, both indoor and outdoor. If you suffer from mealybug houseplants, you will often see them preferably on woody parts of the plant. Mealybugs also like the green leaves. Among others, orchids, but also hydrangea, cactus and palm often suffer from this type of aphid. Yet the mealybug is not known for its pickiness: eventually, you can find it on almost any plant. However, some categories of (indoor) plants are especially susceptible. As we just mentioned, these include cactus and hydrangea, but banana plants, pineapples, passion flowers, olive trees and bromeliads are also considered most attractive by the mealybug.

Another reason why you will sometimes find mealybugs more on one plant than another is the vitality and vigour of the plant. Less 'strong' and vital plants are more susceptible to attracting mealybugs and can therefore deteriorate rapidly in a short period of time. The good news: mealybugs on cactus can be controlled in the same way as mealybugs on orchids or mealybugs on hydrangeas. The method of controlling mealybugs does not have to be adapted to the specific plant species. Think you are dealing with mealybugs outdoors? That is quite possible. This is because the critter also likes to settle in, for example, fruit trees, such as the apple tree, but can also be found in a beech hedge. If you want to rid a hedge of mealybugs, a somewhat rigorous approach is needed: after all, you are working on a larger area. You can combat mealybug hedge control by spraying the lice from the eggs off the leaves with a powerful sprayer. It is then advisable to treat the tree or hedge with a special agent - such as an anti- mealybug spray. Sometimes you need to repeat this treatment a few weeks later.

Fighting mealybug soap, spirit or vinegar

Would you prefer not to come into contact with agents that can harm not only you, but also those around you? Fortunately, there are organic, harmless, natural alternatives to toxic pesticides. Consider, for example, treating your plants with soap, spirit or vinegar. Yes - you read that right! This is not necessarily about the most effective remedy, but the one you like working with best.

Among many other remedies you probably already have in your home at the moment, using spirit and soap is one. You do this by making a mixture of spirit, soap and water. To do this, keep the following proportions: mix 10 millilitres of soft soap (e.g. dreft, washing-up liquid) with 10 millilitres of fire spirit. Add half a litre of water. Put the mixture in a bottle with a good atomiser and spray the mixture over the plants you found the mealybugs on. Make sure you repeat this treatment daily until the lice have disappeared. Simple and also harmless to humans, animals and plants.

Do you prefer to work with vinegar? This remedy is also effective in mealybug control. Not only lice, but also other pests like spider mites and whiteflies have long been successfully controlled thanks to this simple but powerful remedy. Making a mixture is simple: mix water and vinegar by feel and put this mixture in a plant sprayer. Repeat until the lice have completely disappeared.

Have you tried mealybug control with soap, vinegar AND spirit, but still haven't gotten rid of the bugs? Then consider giving salt a chance. It is neither the most widely used nor the easiest way, but if you are struggling with a persistent mealybug problem, it is definitely worth a try. Fill a bucket or a jug halfway with salt - this may be ordinary table salt - and top up the rest with water. Stir well, until most of the salt is dissolved in the water. Place the plant in a bath, gutter step or in the garden. Then pour this mixture over the infected plant. After this, rinse the plant clean with water. You can also choose to apply the mixture with a brush to the spots where most mealybugs have nestled. Feel free to leave the mixture for a while: the plant will not be affected.


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