Department of Agriculture officials in Grand Bahama yesterday confirmed that the island is indeed experiencing an infestation of the pink hibiscus mealybug, a serious pest that is attacking many plants in this region.
Melanie Williams, agricultural officer with the Department of Agriculture noted that the Department is aware of the problem and has received calls from the public about it.
"Samples have been collected and it has been confirmed that we do have a pink hibiscus mealybug infestation in Grand Bahama. What we'd like to do first is release a biological control, a wasp of some sort to destroy the pink hibiscus mealybugs," she explained.
"We're advising the public that, if they want to, they can destroy the trees by burning them and if they decide that they want to cut the tree down, we're advising them to bag them in plastic bags to dump them because the hibiscus mealybug is very contagious. It spreads rapidly through wind, on your clothing, and through insects."
According to information obtained from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture's website, the pink hibiscus mealybug (Maconellicoc-cus hirsutus) is a pest found in tropical and subtropical regions.
Despite the name, the pest attacks not just the hibiscus but many other plant species, including citrus and other ornamental plants. It is found on stems, leaves, buds, fruit and roots of the plants.
Adult mealybugs are about 3 mm long and pink in colour but are covered with a waxy secretion. The waxy filaments are short and females are usually covered by this white mealy wax. When adults are crushed their body fluids are also pink.
Adult males are smaller in size than females, reddish brown and have one pair of wings. Males have two long waxy "tails."
Females die after depositing their eggs, which are orange when just laid and become pink before they hatch.
Crawlers of the pink hibiscus mealybug travel by walking and by wind. Nymphs also can walk long distances to find host plants. The life cycle of one of these pests is about 23 to 30 days.
The pink hibiscus mealybug has a high reproductive rate – females can deposit up to 600 eggs – and produces up to 15 generations per year, which means that populations rapidly expand.
The mealybug feeds on plant tissue, injecting toxic saliva that causes leaves to curl and contort. The plant may be stunted and the shoot tips take on a bushy appearance. Buds may not flower and stems may twist. Fruit may also be deformed. The mealybug excretes honeydew which fosters the development of black sooty mould. Very high mealybug populations can kill plants.
The pest was found in the Caribbean for the first time in 1994 and a report released by the National Biological Control Institute stated that it was discovered in the Marathon area of New Providence in November 2000.
In January of 2001, the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Plant Protec-tion and Quarantine, responded to a request from the Bahamas' Department of Agriculture for assistance in developing a biological control program for suppressing this invasive pest species.
A plan was developed to transfer the biological control technology previously used against the mealybug in the Caribbean and in Central America.
Exotic parasites, Anagyrus kamali and Gyranusoidea indica which were being produced in large numbers in Puerto Rico by the local Department of Agriculture were shipped and released in New Providence beginning in January, 2001. By April of 2001 the mealybug's population density in the area had declined by an average of 71 percent.