Dear What’s the Bug?
Even though I’m not a homebody, I am concerned about some bugs invading my home. There are some pesky critters flying in, on and around my hibiscus bush in the front yard. These tiny flying pests have covered the leaves and pink flowers so that the whole bush appears to be spray-painted white. To make matters worse, these insects are now stuck in my window screen because the humid weather compels me to leave my fan on all day and night. As a result, I will have to remove my screens and hose them off, allowing these white, yucky bugs into my home. What are they?
Highland Park, CA
Based on your vivid description, I have no doubts that you and your hibiscus are being plagued by whiteflies. These miniscule insects belong to the order Homoptera, which is sometimes grouped together with the order Heteroptera, the true bugs, into an order called Hemiptera, because the insects in the two groups share similar sucking mouthparts and undergo incomplete metamorphosis. Hogue writes in his now legendary book, Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, “Virtually all homopterans have wax-producing glands in the integument, and many excrete honeydew, a sugary sticky solution that may attract symbiotic associates (especially ants). A great number are plant pests because of their great fecundity and ability to bleed their hosts of life-giving sap. Some also injure plants by transmitting pathogenic organisms, especially viruses.” There are several species of whiteflies found locally, and they are difficult to distinguish from one another. They all belong to the family Aleyrodidae, and are approximately 1/16 inch long and frequently infest ornamental plants. When disturbed, the adults fly from their perches, usually the undersides of leaves, in a flaky cloud. The flightless nymphs so most of the damage, sucking sap from plants in a manner similar to their relatives, the aphids, scale insects and mealybugs. They can be difficult to eradicate, though I rid my fuschias of them several years ago by diligently spraying the leaves with a mild solution of dish soap in water. The slick surface imparted on the water by the soap causes the insects to drown.