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Old 02-05-2019, 05:24 AM
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Default Help: Mealybug Invasion

Good Evening,

So I've hit a small snag on my recent vivarium build and am having some pest issues. I've recently noticed two little invaders I believe to be mealybugs. I will post an image below. Fortunately, the infestation does not seem particularly well established. I've only seen two thus far, and when looking pretty hard for them I was only able to find one additional bug (three total).

I'm not really sure where they came from - presumably I didn't do a good enough job sanitizing one of my plants and they were a stowaway, but who knows. I'm hoping that folks who have dealt with these pests can give me some insight on the best course of action. I have the following specific questions:

1) Is this for sure a mealybug? Sure looks like it to me, but I don't have much experience with vivarium pests.

2) How bad are these guys as pests? (As in, do they grow fast or slow? If left alone, will they destroy all my plants, or just sort of hinder growth without doing too much damage?)

3) Is there a protocol anyone has used to successfully remove them from a vivarium?

4) Does anyone know how specific of pests these things are? I have thus far found them on my Nepenthes and Schefflera, but I'm not sure if every plant I have is at risk, or if they can only hop to certain species.

5) Has anyone experimented with using ladybird beetles or other predators to kill the mealybugs?

Anyway, that's a lot out the gate. Any insight would be helpful, in the interim I will continue my independent research.

Thanks.

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Old 02-05-2019, 05:42 AM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

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1) Is this for sure a mealybug? Sure looks like it to me, but I don't have much experience with vivarium pests.
Unfortunately this is the only question I can really answer in the context of a vivarium, but this is definitely a mealybug.

Do you have any frogs (or other animals) in the vivarium?
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Old 02-05-2019, 05:52 AM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

Greetings,

Mealybugs are problematic because they often have stealthy infestations - look for them in the roots of orchids or broms especially in places where they are protected from moisture. If you're seeing nomadic individuals, it's likely there is a cluster of them somewhere.

Mealybugs dislike moisture and can frequently be controlled just by hitting them with a water jet. High humidity also helps suppress their activity (like most plan-sucking insects).
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Old 02-05-2019, 06:27 AM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

This is a chameleon enclosure. Humidity is relatively high at night and variable during the day, but not nearly as high as a PDF enclosure would be. So misting and humidity will help, but it's not gonna save me.

I will check my Nepenthes pitcher plant for a cluster tomorrow. It's a shame to disturb it since it's just now taking off, but I don't know what else they would have come in on (it's the most recent addition and the first plant I saw a mealybug on).

I have ordered 1000 lacewing eggs I intend to release into the vivarium to try and hunt the little vermin down. I have also contacted an entomologist who was one of my neighbors growing up, we'll see if she has any insights. From my brief research it looks like some species get into the roots and some do not. Really hoping this isn't the latter.

Has anyone used a CO2 bomb to any effect? I could conceivably put the chameleon in his backup cage, bomb this enclosure, and then release the lacewings to try and mop up any survivors.
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Old 02-05-2019, 12:47 PM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

I've not had mealybugs in a viv, but I have dealt with them on houseplants a few times. The water jet idea kimcmich mentioned has worked well for me, as has dabbing them off with a Q-tip soaked in rubbing alcohol. Neither of these methods will achieve complete removal, but if you keep at it weekly or so, they may run their course and eventually give up the fight.

A long time ago I released a box of ladybird beetles in my apartment to control pests on orchids. The beetles scurried off and died in the corners. We have the invasive 'ladybugs' here in Wisconsin (we vacuum twice a day for most of the winter -- no exaggeration), and they don't eat any houseplant pests as far as I can tell. They come off the soybean fields after harvest, where they've been eating aphids all summer. Sometimes I dream of releasing 'ladybugs' into the homes of my enemies...(insert mad laughter)

I've been experimenting with CO2 bombs in a few smaller vivs, and it can be a bit hard on plants. I've nearly killed a few Neoregelia (probably didn't get them dry enough before bombing), and mounted Masdevallias seem to suffer but recover. I put the viv in a large trash bag and use a CO2 tank on a flowmeter, so I likely get a higher dose of CO2 than the dry ice method. Snails/slugs seem to be killed effectively; I'd bet mealybugs would be killed, too.

We use permethrin to eliminate snake mites in infested enclosures, and snakes tend to be highly sensitive to permethrin (there's lots of LD50 data available, since permethrin is apparently an option for controlling the spread of invasive snakes in shipping containers). We remove the snake, spray the enclosure, let the permethrin dry a few hours (until you can't smell the solvent carrier anymore), and return the snake to the enclosure. Snakes tolerate this well, since permethrin binds to surfaces pretty strongly (this is the basis of tick-protective outdoor clothing).

This is the product of choice:

Provent-a-Mite

Folks have used other permethrin products (OTC mite spray from Walmart) successfully as well.

Kind of a nuclear option, and I sure wouldn't use it in a frog viv, but in a chameleon viv I might.
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Old 02-05-2019, 05:04 PM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

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Originally Posted by kimcmich View Post
If you're seeing nomadic individuals, it's likely there is a cluster of them somewhere.
I would have thought the same, but I did a pretty thorough scan of everything with a pretty bright spotlight - uprooted my nepenthes, my bromeliads, my orchid, and ripped out a few suspect cuttings, nada. Not a single cluster of these beasties anywhere. Could they be somewhere crazy like inside an airplant? Maybe, but I can't really get at those, and I didn't see any via examination with the spotlight.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Socratic Monologue View Post
The water jet idea kimcmich mentioned has worked well for me, as has dabbing them off with a Q-tip soaked in rubbing alcohol. Neither of these methods will achieve complete removal, but if you keep at it weekly or so, they may run their course and eventually give up the fight.
I think for now I will stick with this plan plus the lacewings. I found a couple of agricultural studies that support the theory mealybugs aren't very hardy in humid environments. Apparently if the humidity is over 85% mealybug growth/reproduction is severely repressed. My quarantine tank for plants is around 85%, so my suspicion is that's why I originally missed them (or they hopped on citrus I feed to my feeders or something odd). Unfortunately, my chameleon needs 50-70% humidity, so this won't completely save me. Fortunately, lacewings seem fairly inexpensive and if they hatch ok I will re-treat every couple of months and see what happens.

If they start popping up everywhere that's when I will consider a CO2 bomb or nuclear options.

Thanks for the help and suggestions. Does anyone have a link for how to properly CO2 bomb?
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Old 02-05-2019, 06:18 PM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

Alright, I have a tentative treatment plan: I think these are citrus mealybugs. This is consistent with how they look and what is in my area.

Citrus mealybugs go from eggs to nymphs in roughly 1-10 weeks. Nymphs mature in 6-10 weeks. This means that I will have eggs hatching for ten weeks after the first treatment even if I kill every mealybug, and that I have six weeks in between treatments before new adults start laying new eggs.

I am going to start by doing a manual cleaning of any infested plants (alcohol and Q-tip attack, with misting). Then I will release 1000 lacewing larvae. I will repeat this treatment in one month (to give a couple week cushion for the second lacewing group to get going). I will also repeat at weeks 8 and 12. If the treatment protocol is effective, this should eliminate the mealybugs.

If it's not effective, I will try something like CO2 bombing at similar intervals. My goal is to kill them all and come up with a protocol that will let others do the same.
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Old 02-07-2019, 04:49 AM
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Talking Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

I have to hand it to you. That's one of the best mealybug photographs I've seen.
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Old 02-07-2019, 05:35 PM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

I have found this stuff gets them pretty good and supposedly it is natural-ish and totally breaks down after a couple of weeks. But obviously you wouldn't be able to use it with any livestock in an enclosure and it would also kill all microfauna...

Abamectin
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Old 02-08-2019, 08:36 PM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

I can confirm that ladybugs will completely annihilate mealybugs in a vivarium. I had an infestation, released 100 ladybugs, and they obliterated every last one down to the egg in a few weeks.

Never had a problem again. They are awesome.
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Old 02-08-2019, 09:40 PM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

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I can confirm that ladybugs will completely annihilate mealybugs in a vivarium. I had an infestation, released 100 ladybugs, and they obliterated every last one down to the egg in a few weeks.

Never had a problem again. They are awesome.
Can you provide a link to the vendor of the ladybugs?
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Old 02-09-2019, 01:34 AM
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I’d wager they came with your Schefflera.

In regards to looking through everything with your bright light. I got a rechargeable black light led flashlight. They fluoresce under that UV-A spectrum. I think mine is 370 nm. Very useful when looking through lots of plants for bugs.
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Old 02-09-2019, 06:49 PM
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In regards to looking through everything with your bright light. I got a rechargeable black light led flashlight. They fluoresce under that UV-A spectrum. I think mine is 370 nm. Very useful when looking through lots of plants for bugs.
Oh that's a great tip. I hope it works on the species I have. I am definitely going to try though, thanks.

The Schefflera is the only thing I'm sure they weren't hiding on actually, because I have had it for five years (so it'll bum me out more if I have to cull it).

The good news is that this enclosure has been mealybug free for three days now, and I never found more than 5 total. I've even been taking random leaf samples and looking at them under a USB microscope - no crawlers thus far. The light seems like a higher throughput method though. Does it light up crawlers or just the adults?
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Old 02-09-2019, 07:13 PM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

For anyone who is interested: I did a bit of sleuthing and found that my dart frog vivarium is also infested, and more so than the chameleon vivarium (the PDFs are a shared endeavor, the chameleon is mine, so I pay more attention to the chameleon). Additionally, one of my roommate's houseplant collections is thoroughly infested. I borrowed a USB microscope, took samples of all mealybugs, and determined that the insects plaguing my collection are citrus mealybugs, while the houseplant outbreak are long-tailed mealybugs. So there are currently two separate mealybug outbreaks in my house. It appears my chameleon enclosure became exposed through cross contamination from cuttings taken from the frog vivarium. I have since culled those plants.

I contacted a family friend who is a professor of entomology and pest management at UC Davis, and she said the best strategy is tossing thoroughly infested plants, and manually treating medium infested plants. Houseplants that are not ever going to be used with animals can be treated with imidacloprid granules, which will kill the crawlers but not the adults or eggs (so multiple treatments are necessary, and you still must try to wipe off adults). For the vivarium, it's manual removal. Thus far I have had luck increasing the humidity and removing the visible invaders with rubbing alcohol.

I also have released lacewing larva and purchased a black light to more easily illuminate the insects, I will update when I know if those have worked. At this time, I appear (knock on wood) to have eliminated the mealybugs from my chameleon vivarium, but it is too soon to tell. I am also experimenting with culturing mealybugs in deli-cups, with petroleum jelly around the edges and insect lids to prevent further spread. If I can't rid myself of these creatures through normal methods I will start doing some tests on these cultures. I want to see how long they'd need to be exposed to CO2 for a 100% kill rate, and if sufficient lacewing larva can completely depopulate a mealybug infestation (or if at high lacewing population and low mealybug population the lacewings just eat each other and ignore the mealybugs).


Here is a long-tailed mealybug with nymphs (currently infesting a roommate's houseplants). They give birth to live young, potentially relevant for the use of CO2 (no eggs to survive the fumigation).


Here is a citrus mealybug, the species currently giving me grief in my collection.
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Old 02-09-2019, 07:19 PM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

Connor, I wonder if there are any dart-frog-viv-safe creatures that eat mealybugs (microgeckos come to mind).

A silly aside: that long-tailed version looks like a Muppet on meth. Neat!
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Old 02-09-2019, 07:48 PM
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Connor, I wonder if there are any dart-frog-viv-safe creatures that eat mealybugs (microgeckos come to mind).
Interesting question - I'm not sure. The insects do move, but they may or may not move quick enough to stimulate prey drive. What qualifies as a microgecko? Like a mourning gecko? Or do people keep even smaller geckos?
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Old 02-09-2019, 08:41 PM
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I'm not sure exactly where the cutoff for 'micro' is. People do keep smaller geckos than mourning geckos. All the Spherodactylus are under 8cm (L. lugubris is ~10cm); S. nicholsi is the smallest in captivity and maxes out around 4cm.

My mourning geckos eat tiny mealworms, which aren't very active. I don't have any mealybugs to try to offer them.
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Old 02-09-2019, 09:12 PM
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You wouldn’t want to eat one of those things would you?
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Old 02-09-2019, 09:34 PM
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Hmm... I can't tell the difference...
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Old 02-09-2019, 11:01 PM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

I think I'd rather eat a mealybug than Peeps
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Old 02-11-2019, 01:22 AM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

As a general update regarding techniques for removing mealybugs in a vivarium setting: I used some mealybugs I had removed from my frog tank to test the suggestion they might fluoresce under a blacklight. I found it only marginally helpful as a technique, and I don't think it provided any benefit over a standard issue white LED flashlight.

It's unclear if my conditions can be extrapolated to everyone - I was told that it had been done successfully with a UV light of 370nm, and I used a light of 395nm, so it wasn't the exact same wavelength. Additionally, these are citrus mealybugs (Planococcus citri) so it's possible that another species/genus of mealybugs might truly fluoresce, or at least be of a lighter color that reflects the light better.

Hedging aside, I did not witness true fluorescence in the way that a scorpion might fluoresce. Plant leaves and stems appear mostly pink/red in this light, so there was perhaps a slight benefit in providing contrast between the mealybugs and the leaves themselves, but I didn't feel as though it was much more useful than a standard LED flashlight.

I will include pictures to try and illustrate what I mean (please forgive the weird image sizes):


A citrus mealybug on black backdrop, illuminated with white LED light


The same mealybug on the same black backdrop, illuminated with LEDs emitting 395nm UV light


For comparison, here is a scorpion I found in the Mojave desert, exhibiting true fluorescence.

All in all I would not recommend purchasing a blacklight to aid in mealybug removal. If you already have one, it might be worth giving it a shot to see if other types of mealybugs or other UV wavelengths do result in true fluorescence. If they do, be sure to take some pictures and post about it, it would likely be helpful to others trying to rid themselves of these pests, particularly if they find their way onto a particularly rare plant.
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Old 02-13-2019, 06:23 PM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

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Can you provide a link to the vendor of the ladybugs?
Sorry for replying so late. I got them from here: https://www.naturesgoodguys.com/

That brand also sells on Amazon.

I have 3 Auratus microspot that were about 4-6 months old when I introduced them to the viv that was cleaned out by the ladybugs. There were still a good number of ladybugs that were alive at the time. The frogs were fairly aggressive, and periodically went after a ladybug, but in general they lived in harmony (until the ladybugs died from lack of food). I wouldn't hesitate to introduce more ladybugs into the viv with the frogs if mealybugs ever returned.
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Old 02-14-2019, 05:52 AM
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Sorry for replying so late. I got them from here: https://www.naturesgoodguys.com/

That brand also sells on Amazon.

I have 3 Auratus microspot that were about 4-6 months old when I introduced them to the viv that was cleaned out by the ladybugs. There were still a good number of ladybugs that were alive at the time. The frogs were fairly aggressive, and periodically went after a ladybug, but in general they lived in harmony (until the ladybugs died from lack of food). I wouldn't hesitate to introduce more ladybugs into the viv with the frogs if mealybugs ever returned.
Thanks, that's really helpful information. I bought lacewings from that company instead of beetles because (according to admittedly questionably reliable internet sources) ladybirds are toxic to chameleons while lacewings are not. I'm pretty skeptical that the chameleon would eat enough of them it would be a problem, since they're supposed to be pretty unpalatable, but I'm not going to risk it. (As a general aside, chameleon keepers as a group tend to believe everything is toxic to chameleons unless it is on a list that says it is not. For example, calcium oxalate containing pothos is safe because it is on the list, but calcium oxalate containing alocasia is not, because it is not on the list. Caution is a good thing to have I guess, and some day I will iron out my understanding of toxicology and try to help expand the "safe" list, but I digress..)

Still, I will consider the ladybird beetles if the lacewings don't work out, and just move the chameleon into temporary housing until the beetles have done the deed. I might try it in my frog viv too, since it didn't sound like you had any toxicity issues. As far as you could tell, about long did it take for the beetles to knock off the mealybugs? And did you do multiple treatments, or just the one?
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Old 02-15-2019, 02:09 PM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

It took the ladybugs a few weeks to eliminate everything I could see. I only needed one treatment.

Before I introduced the frogs, I recall reading about someone who had darts that ate a ladybug and nothing happened. The only thing they noticed was that the shell came out in the poop fairly whole, but frogs evolved to encounter and consume various insects, so I wasn't too worried. They took care of themselves.
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Old 03-17-2019, 08:04 PM
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Default Re: Help: Mealybug Invasion

As a general update on this topic, it has been six weeks since I have seen a mealybug in my chameleon vivarium. Since citrus mealybugs mature in about six weeks, and their egg clusters are fairly visible, I am optimistic that I successfully removed them. I suppose I won't be completely sure until sometime in early July though, as it can take up to ten weeks for eggs to hatch and up to ten weeks for those to mature. I am preparing for another round of lacewings regardless.

My frog vivarium is still infested, albeit at a fairly low level. I did not have as much luck with the ladybugs as macg, they kept escaping through very small ventilation cracks and getting eaten by the frogs. While the frogs didn't seem to suffer any ill-effects, I do not want to encourage consumption of toxic insects. Subjectively, it does seem like the ladybugs reduced the number of mealybugs, but not to a particularly useful extent (I believe I was using Hippodamia convergens).

I'm also not as concerned about the frog vivarium. The humidity is high enough that the mealybugs don't seem to grow very quickly, and it doesn't really contain any particularly valuable plants. I will add more lacewing larva and see what happens.

TLDR: What I have learned so far - alcohol swabbing of plants with low level infestations and culling plants with higher grade infestations appears to be the most effective method for removal. Increased humidity may decrease mealybug viability. Ladybugs and lacewings may reduce the population, but do not appear to be effective as a sole means of control.
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