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Mediterranean vine mealybug

Planococcus ficus

What do they look like?

The male and female vine mealybugs are different in appearance and in size. The females are much larger than the males, being about 4 mm in length, 2 mm wide and 1.5 mm thick. Females usually weigh 100 to 200 times more than the males. Female bodies are made up on many thin segments, with a pink to slate-grey-colored appearance. Their body is also covered in a fine white powdery wax layer. They have waxy hair-like projections and a dark thin line of wax running down the back of their body. They have no wings.

Male vine mealybugs are very tiny and delicate. They are less than 1 mm long with a pair of small, transparent wings. Males appear brownish in color, with a beaded antenna, and their body is wider in the middle. They have two long hairs, called anal seta, that are used to keep them steady while flying. One very unique characteristic of the males is the fact that they do not have functioning mouths, so they have to use their anal seta hairs to feed. (Vieux and Malan, 2013)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • female more colorful
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range length
    0.5 to 4 mm
    0.02 to 0.16 in
  • Average wingspan
    1.2 mm
    0.05 in

Where do they live?

The vine mealybug, Planococcus ficus, is commonly found throughout South Africa, the Mediterranean and Mexico. They have also been found in parts of Asia, Europe, California, Pakistan, and Israel. It is not known which populations are native and which have been brought to these regions. Transportation of contaminated plant material and field equipment has allowed the vine mealybug species to move to and live in different regions all over the world. They were first discovered in California in 1994 and have spread out since. (Daugherty, 2013)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Vine mealybugs live in large groups on different types of plants. They mostly live on subtropical and tropical plants for their fruit, but they are sometimes found in common weedy plants. They move up and down parts of the plant during different seasons of the year. They spend the winter months in colonies on the lower parts of the plant, under the bark or underground in the roots, living down to 30 cm underneath the ground. During the spring and summer months, they move upward on the plant. However, the largest portions of vine mealybugs live inside the trunk of the plant year round. (Vieux and Malan, 2013)

How do they grow?

Females go through incomplete metamorphosis, passing through five growth stages. The stages include an egg stage, three nymphal instar (crawlers) stages, and an adult stage during which they mate.

Males go through complete metamorphosis. They go through seven different growth stages, with the third stage starting to show male characteristics. Just like the females, the males go through an egg and three nymphal instar stages, but then they undergo pre-pupae, pupae and an adult stage, which allows the male to fly short distances, and mate with other adult females. (Vieux and Malan, 2013)

How do they reproduce?

Vine mealybugs can mate all year long, but most of their mating takes place during the warmer months of spring and summer. Mating happens much less during the winter. When a female is fully developed and ready to mate, she releases a chemical called a pheromone that will attract males to mate with her. The females can mate up to eight times in a single day. A lot of males die after mating, but the ones who survive will mate again the following day. Males will mate as much as possible during their lifetime. (Vieux and Malan, 2013; Waterworth, et al., 2011)

The number of matings affects the amount of eggs produced. Vine mealybugs reproduce quickly and often, meaning that many generations a year can be produced. A single female can produce any where from 50 to 800 offspring depending on how much food she has and how her environment is. The eggs are placed in cotton-like ovisacs for development, which can be left anywhere on a plant or underground. (Vieux and Malan, 2013; Waterworth, et al., 2011)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Vine mealybugs can breed multiple times in their lives.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding takes place year round, but mainly in the spring and summer.
  • Range eggs per season
    50 to 800
  • Average eggs per season
    362
  • Average time to independence
    0 minutes
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    31.6 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    31.6 days

When females lay their eggs, they lay the eggs in sacs for development. They also provide nutrients in the eggs for the unborn offspring to grow and develop. After the eggs are laid, the adults leave the offspring to survive on their own. There is no more parental care for the eggs or the young. (Vieux and Malan, 2013)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female

How long do they live?

From birth to death, vine mealybugs live about 68 days, depending on the environment, food supply, and predators. (Mustu and Kilincer, 2006)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    68 days
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    68 days

How do they behave?

Vine mealybugs live in large groups called colonies on plants, where development, reproduction, and feeding all takes place. They work together for food and protection. Females lack wings and are unable to fly, while males may make short flights. (Daugherty, 2013)

Home Range

Females stay on the same plant for most of their lives, only moving to find mates, or for survival. Males will sometimes take short flights to other plants and colonies to feed and mate. (Daugherty, 2013)

How do they communicate with each other?

Not much is known about what senses vine mealybugs use to gather information about their environment. They do communicate during mating by using pheromones, which are chemicals produced by the females to get the attention of the males and attract them to mate. (Vieux and Malan, 2013; Waterworth, et al., 2011)

What do they eat?

Vine mealybugs are herbivores. They feed on several agricultural and weedy plant species. Most vine mealybugs eat grapevines. If grapevines are not available, they also eat apples, avocado, banana, date palm, fig, mango and citrus as well. They feed on plant fluid called phloem. (Daugherty, 2013; Malakar-Kuenen and Daane, 2014)

  • Primary Diet
  • herbivore
    • eats sap or other plant foods
  • Plant Foods
  • roots and tubers
  • fruit
  • sap or other plant fluids

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Predators of vine mealybugs include many insect species, particularly beetles, such as Cryptolaemus montrouzieri and Nephus reunioni. Lady beetles (Coccinellidae) are important predators of mealybugs, as they will eat huge numbers of mealybugs and keep their populations from growing too large. Parasites are also responsible for many deaths of vine mealybugs. Some vine mealybug colonies form relationships with ants, where the ants feed on the sugary fluid (called honeydew) produced by the mealybugs, and in return the ants protect the mealybugs from predators and parasitoids. (Rzavea, 1985; Vieux and Malan, 2013)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Vine mealybugs live on weedy plants, fig trees, grapevines, and other fruit plants. They use them as a place to feed, reproduce and live their lives. Extremely large colonies will sometimes kill the plant by over feeding, but most of the time it is just the fruit of the plant that is destroyed by the vine mealybugs.

Many vine mealybug colonies form relationships with neighboring ant colonies. The ants feed on the sugar rich honeydew that the mealybugs produce. In exchange, the ants will dig tunnels and help the mealybugs move underground for the winter months. The ants will also protect the mealybugs from parasites and predators, such as lady beetles.

There are many parasitoids that use the bodies of vine mealybugs to reproduce in. Leptomastidea abnormis is one such parasitoid. These parasitoids enter the mealybug by a natural opening, such as the mouth, anus or spiracles. Once inside, the parasitoid will release bacteria from its stomach. The bacterium grows rapidly and produces chemicals that kill the mealybug within 48 hours. Then, the parasitoid can reproduce and feed inside the dead mealybug. Nematodes are parasitic worms that also use the bodies of mealybugs. The nematodes that belong to families Heterorhabditidae and Steunernematidae are deadly insect pathogens that infect mealybugs and kill them. (Daugherty, 2013; Malakar-Kuenen and Daane, 2014; Rzavea, 1985)

Species (or larger taxonomic groups) used as hosts by this species
  • grapes, Vitis spp.
Species (or larger taxonomic groups) that are mutualists with this species
Commensal or parasitic species (or larger taxonomic groups) that use this species as a host
  • wasp, Leptomastidea abnormis
  • nematode, Steinernema glaseri
  • nematodes, Heterorhabditidae
  • nematodes, Steunernematidae

Do they cause problems?

Vine mealybugs are crop pests that destroy many fruit crops, as well as other plants all over the world. Vine mealybugs are especially destructive to grapevines. A mold grows on their secretions, egg-sacs, and honeydew that makes the fruit inedible and unmarketable. This causes problems and money loss for farmers and wine makers. It also means higher fruit prices for grocery shoppers. Vine mealybugs also transfer a virus to grapvines called grapevine leaf roll-associated virus 3. This virus makes if difficult for grapevines to survive. (Vieux and Malan, 2013)

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • crop pest

How do they interact with us?

Vine mealybugs do not have any positive effects on humans.

Are they endangered?

Vine mealybugs are not an endangered species.

Some more information...

The common name ‘mealybug’ comes from the white mealy or powdery wax that these species produce to cover their bodies.

The vine mealybug was first discovered in South Africa in 1914.

It is very common for old vine mealybugs to lose their legs, and die shortly afterwards. (Vieux and Malan, 2013)

Contributors

Dylan Berning (author), Grand View University, Graham Dawson (author), Grand View University, Mike Foggia (author), Grand View University, Felicitas Avendano (editor), Grand View University, Dan Chibnall (editor), Grand View University, Angela Miner (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

References

Daane, K., J. Walker, M. Botton, M. Fallahzadeh, J. Miano, R. Almedia, V. Walton. 2012. "Biology and Management of Mealybugs in Vineyards" (On-line pdf). nature.berkley.edu. Accessed March 13, 2014 at http://nature.berkeley.edu/~rodrigoalmeida/Lab%20page/papers/Daane12.pdf.

Daugherty, M. 2013. "Vine Mealybug: Planococcus ficus" (On-line). UC Riverside Center for Invasive Species Research. Accessed March 13, 2014 at https://cisr.ucr.edu/vine_mealybug.html.

Malakar-Kuenen, R., K. Daane. 2014. "Vine Mealybug, Planococcus ficus Signoret" (On-line). SpringerReference. Accessed March 13, 2014 at http://www.springerreference.com/docs/html/chapterdbid/89123.html.

Mustu, M., N. Kilincer. 2006. "Life table and some feeding features of Nephus kreissli fed on Planococcus ficus" (On-line). ResearchGate. Accessed March 13, 2014 at http://www.researchgate.net/publication/257790754_Life_table_and_some_feeding_features_of_Nephus_kreissli_fed_on_Planococcus_ficus.

Rzavea, L. 1985. "Parasites and predators of the grape mealybug (Planococcus ficus Signoret) and introduction of new natural enemies into the eastern Transcaucasus." (On-line). CAB Direct. Accessed March 15, 2014 at http://www.cabdirect.org/abstracts/19850530159.html;jsessionid=DC2D4932AA6961E12C13FC4D6BF317DD.

Vieux, P., A. Malan. 2013. "An Overview of the Vine Mealybug (Planococcus ficus) in South African Vineyards and the use of Entomopathogenic Nematodes as potential Biocontrol Agent" (On-line pdf). South African Society for Enology and Viticulture. Accessed March 12, 2014 at http://www.sasev.org/journal/list-of-journals/an-overview-of-the-vine-mealybug-planococcus-ficus-in-south-african-vineyards-and-the-use-of-entomopathogenic-nematodes-as-potential-biocontrol-agent/?id=14&entryId=177.

Waterworth, R., I. Wright, J. Millar. 2011. Reproductive Biology of Three Cosmopolitan Mealybug (Hemiptera: Pseudococcidae) Species, Pseudococcus longispinus, Pseudococcus viburni, and Planococcus ficus. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 104/2: 249-260. Accessed March 13, 2014 at http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1603/AN10139.

 
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Berning, D.; G. Dawson and M. Foggia 2014. "Planococcus ficus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 21, 2017 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Planococcus_ficus/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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