Mealybugs are a pest in greenhouses and warm, moist climates. They are found in the family Pseudococcidae. They are small, oval-shaped white insect pests who feed mostly on the plant juices of greenhouse plants, citrus plants, grapes, pineapples and other tropical plants. Most greenhouses have a small population of mealybug pests at one time or another. These insects can be controlled with Insecticidal soap and lots of diligent monitoring. The Tucker greenhouse has small, isolated populations. I recently showed Extension entomologist, Ben Putler one of the more heavily infested cycad plants growing in the north greenhouse. Ben was elated. That’s when he exclaimed “Don’t spray this plant, please let me collect some of these Longtailed mealybugs (Pseudococcus longispinus).” He told me that a researcher in Plant Sciences, Dr. Jim Schoelz studies plant viruses was very interested in these mealybugs and their possible relationship to a virus seen in some Missouri vineyards .
“The virus we are studying is Grapevine Vein-Clearing Virus (GVCV). We do not know the vector that might be transmitting the virus in the field, or even if GVCV is capable of being transmitted by a vector, but many of the viruses in this genus are transmitted by mealybugs, so mealybugs are likely suspects for GVCV. The longtailed mealybug that was found in the Tucker greenhouse has been shown to transmit other viruses to grapes, so we are using this mealybug in our transmission tests.” -Dr. James E. Schoelz, MU Division of Plant Sciences
So, Ben Putler and Entomology graduate student Lauren Diepenbrock have begun collecting these mealybugs from the Tucker Greenhouse cycad plant. They use a very ingenious collecting method. They place a sprouted potato in the infested pot. The mealybug nymphs and some adults quickly find the succulent young potato shoots, then they attach themselves to the shoots and begin feeding. Ben and Lauren will be checking on their potatoes on a regular basis, and replacing them with new sprouted potatoes when the others are full of mealybugs.