Attack of the Mealy Bug!

What I believed to be white mould, turned out to be mealy bug.

And it’s not just in our garden – there’s an island-wide outbreak of it.

It’s affected mango, lychee, and pawpaw orchards, and well as vegetable crops, and ornamental plants.

The worst-affected in our garden were the hibiscus, gardenias, Madagascan frangipanis, pawpaw, and mulberry.

The mango tree next door is covered in it, and unfortunately, as it overhangs our Square Foot Garden bed, the mealy bugs have spread to the basil, peas and beans, by way of falling leaves and baby mangoes.

We sprayed the ornamental plants with Amidor (active ingredient Imidacloprid), and are spraying homemade white oil on the edible plants (2 parts vegetable oil shaken in a jar with 1 part dishwashing liquid, then diluted at the rate of 2 tablespoons to 1 litre of water).

We also had to radically prune some of the plants to remove the worst-affected parts.

Needless to say those prunings did not go into the compost!

Everything will need a close eye kept on it for the foreseeable future, as it’s going to be a recurring problem.

A Lesson Learnt the Hard Way

According to an article in last week’s paper, the Mauritian Government’s solution to the infestation, is to introduce a parasitic insect from India that eats mealy bugs.

Do people never learn?

In the 1930’s in Australia, the sugarcane industry in Queensland fell prey to cane-destroying beetles. The government imported cane toads from Hawaii to eat the beetles.

Unfortunately, the beetles lived at the top of the canes, and as the toads couldn’t jump more than a couple of feet, they looked elsewhere for their food source.

They ate all manner of native insects, small mammals, birds and reptiles (basically whatever they could cram into their mouths), thereby both killing the native fauna, and reducing the amount of food available to other native critters.

On top of that, they’re poisonous, so anything that ate them died.

Since then, they’ve spread from the cane fields of Queensland, down into New South Wales, across the Northern Territory, and into the north of Western Australia, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, and well-established colonies wherever they’ve been.

Each female lays between 8000 and 35000 (!) eggs during each bi-annual breeding season, and the cane toad’s average life-span is 5 years.

In 2011, it was estimated that there were 2 billion cane toads in Australia.

There is no estimate of the number of creatures they’ve gobbled down or poisoned over the last 80-odd years.

And no-one knows how to stop, yet alone eradicate, them.

Mauritius

Mauritius is like Australia – an island with endemic fauna.

There is no telling what the introduction of this new insect will do in the long run, and the fact that, in India, it’s successful at controlling mealy bugs with no adverse effects doesn’t mean a thing – Mauritius is not environmentally identical to India.

Also, what will they eat once the mealy bugs are gone?

I’m not a greenie by any stretch of the imagination, but surely this type of thinking is short-term, and the potential for disaster, limitless.

All that one can do is to hope that a) it works, and b) the long-term impact on the environment is a positive, or at least, benign one.

I’m reminded of that children’s song about an old lady who swallowed a fly, then swallowed a spider to catch the fly, then swallowed a bird to catch the spider…

I guess if the introduced insects become a problem, the Government can introduce something else that eats them…cane toads, perhaps – Australia’s got plenty to spare.

And then some!

cane toadscane toad

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7 thoughts on “Attack of the Mealy Bug!

  1. Hi
    You got a nice blog with excellent contents. Unfortunately few people are aware about organic farming. So far Areu role in infestation control is not so clear and many prob
    are creating thru their trial and error method. Amazing no body is controlling the numerous pesticides and toxin found in out vegetable. Bugs will not kill us but these toxins will. I also suggest you have your own domain with you own responsive website. It was very hard for me typing from my phone.

  2. This is a very exciting topic, and it’s great that you wrote about this.
    I am very worried that Mauritius is already used a lot of pesticides in the cultivation of vegetables. Now, if it will fruits, what will be possible to eat on our paradise island?
    I plan to grow my garden with some vegetables. But I can already see that no one is safe from this infection and it is very sad.
    Do you grow vegetables in your garden? tomatoes, cucumbers …

    • Hi Olga – good luck with your vegetable garden.
      I started planting vegetable and herbs a couple of months ago – mainly things you can’t buy here or that are expensive to buy. I started everything from seed (some worked better than others!) and now, though they’re still small, it’s all beginning to take off with the advent of warmer weather – I’ll be posting about it next week. I’ll also update about whether the white oil is working. V

      • well, i think we should go for sustainable agriculture where there is a minimal use of pesticides application and decrease the amount of fertilizer but instead use organic compost.The government is promoting the distribution of compost bin so i think it s a good initiative to promote backyard farming with organic compost. farmers are spraying more and more pesticides with these new outbreak of pest & diseases. so the food we are eating are they safe?? What about the pesticide residues in the vegetables and fruits?

    • In a report publish by AREU, we can noticed that even the fruits like banana (infected by banana weeril), letchis (by letchi borer) and papaya are being infected by mealy bugs which is the alarming case in Mauritius. yah i do grow crops at home like okra, leafy vegetables, chilli and so on but if you don’t spray pesticide you will never have something to eat because everything are being infected by disease. some botanical insecticide which you can use at home to control larvae is the neem and marigold roots (known as genda), citronelle fro the aphids and spidermite, finally you can add 1 portion of the garlic also which can be effective to control the pest.

  3. I am not an expert nor ecologist but it seems to me that years of pesticide use in Mauritius has had a devastating effect. The balance of insect and bird life has been disrupted. Hence suggestions to re-introduce certain species of insects in order to redress the situation.

    • Okay – that makes sense – L’Express didn’t mention the re-introduction of these insects, just that they were importing them from India. Alf and I were discussing it, and he thought it all seemed a bit fast – we wondered whether the proper research had gone into the decision, or if it was more of a “oh well, spraying isn’t working, let’s try this instead” decision. Thanks for that – it’s put my mind a bit more at rest! V

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