Mealy Bugs

Mealy Bugs

Family: Pseudococcidae

Affected Plants:

Indoor plants, Ferns, Palms, Succulents, Cacti, Citrus trees, Grapes, Mango, Roses, Hibiscus, Bougainvillea

Damage Type:

Sucking sap

Physical Characteristics:

Small, oval, covered with a white, waxy, cottony substance; sap-sucking pests.

Control Method:

Garden Gun, Chlorpyrifos, Mercaptothion

Environmental Impact:

Varies, Garden Gun for indoors

Organic/Natural Control:

Neem oil, alcohol swabs

About this pest

Mealybugs: Tiny Treasures of Trouble in South African Gardens

Those fluffy white “fluffs” dotting your South African plants might seem harmless, but they’re actually mealybugs, notorious plant pests capable of causing significant damage. Let’s explore their world to understand why they’re unwelcome guests and how to keep your garden thriving:

Physical Characteristics:

  • Size: Typically 1-4mm long, covered in a white waxy coating that resembles mealy flour (hence the name).
  • Body: Soft-bodied, oval-shaped, with segmented antennae and long sucking mouthparts.
  • Movement: Slow-moving, often found clustered on stems, leaves, and flower buds.
  • Life cycle: Females lay eggs in cottony masses, hatching into nymphs that resemble adults and feed on plant sap.

Common South African Names:

  • Meelluis (Afrikaans)

Why are Mealybugs Pests?

  • Plant sap feeders: They pierce plant tissues and suck sap, weakening the plant and stunting growth.
  • Honeydew producers: They excrete a sticky substance called honeydew, attracting ants and other pests, and promoting fungal growth.
  • Wide range of hosts: Attack a variety of ornamental plants, vegetables, fruit trees, and even crops like maize.
  • Viruses: Some mealybug species can transmit plant viruses, causing additional damage and yield losses.

Combatting Mealybugs:

Monitoring: Regularly inspect plants for signs of mealybugs, including white cottony masses, sticky honeydew, and leaf discolouration.

Natural methods:

      • Encourage natural predators: Lacewings, ladybugs, and parasitic wasps feed on mealybugs.
      • Neem oil spray: Disrupts their feeding and development.
      • Insecticidal soap spray: Can kill mealybugs on contact, but reapplication might be needed.

Biological control: Introduce commercially available parasitic wasps specific to mealybugs.

Cultural practices:

      • Pruning: Remove and destroy infested plant parts to reduce pest numbers.
      • Water management: Avoid overwatering, as mealybugs thrive in humid conditions.
      • Ant control: Disrupting ant populations that protect and farm mealybugs can weaken their presence.

Chemical control: Use registered insecticides as a last resort due to environmental impact and potential harm to beneficial insects. Choose options targeted specifically for mealybugs.


  • Early detection and intervention are crucial to manage mealybug populations effectively.
  • Combine multiple control methods for a sustainable approach, prioritizing natural strategies whenever possible.
  • Identify the specific mealybug species affecting your plants for targeted control measures.

By understanding the biology and behaviour of mealybugs and taking proactive steps, you can protect your South African garden from these unwelcome guests and keep your plants flourishing.

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