JIS News

Controlling ants will be a key feature in the containment of the Pink Hibiscus Mealy Bug in Jamaica, the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands has said.
Speaking with JIS News, Assistant Plant Health and Food Safety Officer in the Technology Training and Technical Information Division at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), Francine Webb, informed that ants play a major role in the transfer of the pest to other areas.
“When the bug feeds, it produces a sugary substance called honey dew, and the ants will in turn feed on this and as they move from one plant to the next, the pest is transferred,” she explained.
According to Miss Webb, if farmers and property owners could identify the nests of ants, they could use a drench composed of insecticides such as the banana sleeve, which could be obtained from the Banana Board, or any petroleum jelly to restrict movement.
Meanwhile, she informed that the first batch of the Parasitoid Wasps, the natural enemy of the pest, is expected in the island this month, and has assured that they would not pose a threat to humans as they were specific to the Mealy Bugs.
“What will happen is that they [the wasps] will lay their eggs on the immature stages of the Mealy Bugs and the eggs will then hatch and they will feed on the Mealy Bugs. Where these wasps have been released in the Caribbean and the United States, we have observed between 90 and 95 per cent drop in the Mealy Bug population, so we are expecting similar results here,” she said.
She urged farmers who suspect that plants on their farms or in their backyards have been infested to contact their RADA extension office, the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands or call the Pink Mealy Bug Hotline at 1-888-991-5100.
“If infestation is the case, we do not want farmers to take any samples, hence contributing to the spread of this pest. Once they suspect that the pest is present they should call the office. We will visit and identify exactly what is taking place,” she stressed. Farmers, she noted, have chosen to prune trees where they suspect the presence of the pest on their property. However, she pointed out that if this is done, farmers should burn all plant parts or place the remnants in garbage bags and bake in the sun in order to kill the pest.
“Don’t just cut the plants and leave them there for the mealy bug to spread,” she advised.
She further explained that while the mealy bug has a wide host range, infestation occurred in colonies. “Physically the mealy bug is quite small.
It’s a soft bodied insect that occurs in colonies. so you will see this white cottony mass on either the fruits, leaves, stems or even the roots of the plants,” she noted. Additionally, she pointed out that the eggs as well as immature and adult females were pink in colour.
A mealy bug infestation can cause deformation of fruits and leaves, ultimately leading to the death of the plant. “What it does is that when it feeds, it has a toxin in its saliva that results in curling and contortion of the leaves. If it’s on the young shoots or on buds, you will have deformation on fruits and the buds won’t flower,” Miss Webb explained. On July 10, Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Roger Clark confirmed the presence of the Pink Hibiscus Mealy Bug in the communities of Commodore and Manchioneal in Portland.

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