The Tribune - Spectrum


, May 26, 2002
Garden Life

Menace of mango mealy bugs
Satish Narula

`Mango mealy bugs’ are not specific to mango trees
`Mango mealy bugs’ are not specific to mango trees

THEY have raised their ugly heads again. Unpleasant to look at, the crawling creatures are repulsive. They invade the house and can be seen everywhere on the walls, doors, windows, on the floor and plants. When crushed under the feet, they leave a yellow strain that persists even for an year. Yes, I am referring to the Mango mealy bugs.

Though these pests were around earlier too, yet for the last about three years or so the menace has attained nuisance proportions. The gardener knows only when an army of these bugs starts marching out, not many know, from the soil. And the initial source could be one of the old houses in the locality.

The large and fleshy, flat and wax-bodied greyish white insects could now-a-days be seen crawling down the tree trunks. These could also be seen near the base of the trees and also any place in the garden. This is the time for retreat. The large bodied wingless females, merely a centimeter or so long move back to the soil to lay eggs in clusters of 300 to 400 eggs each, mostly in the near vicinity of tree trunk so that the emerging nymphs when hatched do not find it difficult to crawl up to the soft portions of the trees, that is the terminals of branches where they suck the sap to devitalise the tree.

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Do not get misled by the name `Mango mealy bugs’ as the pests are not specific to mango trees. The list of its forage plants exceeds 60 odd species of trees, shrubs etc.

The sap-sucking insects released a honey dew that attracts sooty mould fungus. It gives the plants a shabby look too.

The insects have one life cycle in a year and any move to scuttle it at any stage could prove effective in trying to control the menace. The insect nymphs appear sometime during the period extending from November end to March, depending upon weather conditions. The small nymphs, after they are hatched, crawl up the tree and feed themselves to attain adulthood. The male which has a delicate, reddish body is winged. Its movements are brisk and it fertilises the females actively. The females then crawl down during this season to lay eggs about five to 15 cm below soil level. The male is short-lived and dies within a month’s time, whereas the female dies immediately after laying eggs in mid-summer.

How should one control these bugs

First and the most important factor is to take action after the eggs are laid. Then the soil can be exposed to enable the eggs to be destroyed in the summer heat or to be picked up by the birds. These eggs take several months to hatch.

Also the areas of infestation could be poisoned by the application of an effective soil insecticide so that the hatching insects get poisoned and die. You can also apply poly-bands around the main trunk of the tree . The insects cannot fly (only males can fly and that too when adult), they slip and fall.

According to Major Gurbachan Singh, Chief Conservator of Forests (retired), it is one of the most effective methods. As the insects slip down, they congregate at the base in hundreds and then could be destroyed. Make sure that the one-and-half-foot polythene band is tightly secured around the tree trunk and the insects do not crawl up from below it.

If the trees are infested with bugs then spraying Methyl parathion at one ml to a litre of water ensures quite an effective control. But the proportion of the problem where these insects appear in home gardens is unimaginable as they can be seen crawling up at any given place. Will you go on spraying every nook and corner of your home garden? Another simple way — the insects crawling up the walls etc. could be collected with the help of brooms and destroyed. Remember a thousand insects thus killed could mean many thousands prevented in the next year.


This feature was published on May 19, 2002