JIS News

The Ministry of Agriculture and Lands has intensified efforts to contain and control the potential spread of the Pink Hibiscus Mealy Bug.
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 said that since the first detection of the Pink Mealy Bug in Portland, the Ministry and RADA have conducted extensive surveys in the affected areas to determine the level of infestation in the parish.
Commodore, Islington, Fair Prospect and Windsor Forest have been identified as areas that are affected by the pest.
Miss Webb pointed out that the Ministry is currently awaiting a shipment of Parasitoids, the natural predators of the pest, which would be released in the affected areas.
The first batch of the Parasitoid wasps is expected in the island this month, and Miss Webb has assured that they will not pose a threat to humans as they are 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 reiterated.
According to Miss Webb, farmers in the affected areas have chosen to prune trees on their property if the pest is suspected. However, she stressed that if this is done they are required to burn all plant parts or place the remnants in garbage bags and bake in the sun in order to kill the pest.
“We suggest that you don’t just cut the plants and leave it there for it [the mealy bug] to spread,” she advised.
Addressing the likelihood of the pest being transferred to other areas, Miss Webb explained that this could only be done through the movement of plants from the affected area to another, an exercise which has been banned by the Ministry.
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.

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