Recently, we received some calls about Ficus Whitefly, Singhiella simplex, damage. Do you remember how the damage looked? I still remember in 2007 during my early career as an Extension Agent when many pest control operators were calling the IFAS/Extension office to learn about what was going on with their clients’ ficus hedges. As you remember, the privacy hedges were losing their leaves leaving the property with no privacy!
The pest was identified on Ficus benjamina, and it was a new US continental record. Whiteflies are small, winged insects that belong to the Order Hemiptera which also includes aphids, scales, mealybugs, and bugs. They typically feed on the underside of leaves with their “needle-like” mouthparts and cause serious injury to the host plants by sucking juices from them causing wilting, yellowing, stunting, leaf drop, or even death.
Why this is important? Natural ecosystems are very complex systems. For the last 15 years, the best management options were natural enemies and insecticides mainly the neonicotinoid group (Group 4). When and outbreak like this happens, the first thought we have is the development of pesticide resistance. To that end, last week several entomologists from USDA/ARS (Agricultural Research Service) and UF/IFAS collected some ficus samples from several locations in Miami-Dade. Hopefully soon, we are going to get some answers if the insects have developed any resistance. I will keep you informed!