Whitefly: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

folder_openHemiptera, Insecta
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Whiteflies are tiny insects that might be causing trouble in your garden. Often mistaken for small moths, these creatures are actually closely related to sap-sucking aphids. Although they appear to be innocent at first glance, whiteflies can cause significant damage to plants, as both nymphs and adults feed on the cell contents of the leaves. When disturbed, they often fly up in swarms, making their presence quite noticeable. You can learn about these insects to protect your garden from harm.

To identify whiteflies, look for their distinctive physical characteristics. Adult whiteflies are about 1/16th of an inch in length, with four powdery white wings. The immature stages include eggs, crawlers, scales, and pupae, all of which are yellowish and mostly found on the undersides of leaves. Noticing a “cloud” of tiny white insects above your plants when you disturb them is a telltale sign of a whitefly infestation.

Understanding the lifecycle and habits of whiteflies will help you find effective control methods. Whiteflies lay their small, oval, light green to yellow-green eggs on the undersides of tender leaves. As they develop into increasingly transparent nymphs, they feed on plant leaves, causing damage to your garden. Throughout the summer, several generations of whiteflies may occur, making it essential to monitor your garden and combat infestations as needed.

Understanding Whiteflies

Whiteflies are small, winged insects that can cause significant damage to a wide range of plants. They are approximately 1/16th inch (1.5 mm) in length and have four powdery white wings. When you disturb a heavily infested plant, you may notice a “cloud” of these tiny white insects rising above it1.

Adult whiteflies and their nymphs feed on the undersides of leaves by piercing and sucking out cell contents2. As they do, they excrete a sticky substance called honeydew. Several generations of whiteflies can occur in a single summer2.

Some common plants that whiteflies are known to infest include:

  • Fuchsia
  • Geranium
  • Hibiscus
  • Gerbera daisy
  • Poinsettia3

Vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, and eggplants are also vulnerable to whitefly infestations3.

To distinguish whiteflies from other pests, pay attention to these key characteristics:

  • Small size, around 1/16th inch (1.5 mm) in length
  • Powdery white wings
  • Feed on the undersides of leaves
  • Excrete sticky honeydew

Dealing with whiteflies can be challenging, but understanding their behavior, life cycle, and feeding habits will help you develop effective control strategies. By keeping an eye out for early signs of infestation, you can take crucial steps to protect the health of your plants.

Identifying Whiteflies

Physical Characteristics

Whiteflies are tiny insects that can infest your plants and cause various issues. It’s essential to understand their physical characteristics to identify them accurately.

Adults: Adult whiteflies are small with a size range of 1/16 to 1/10 inch. They have powdery white wings, which makes them resemble tiny moths. When disturbed, these white-winged pests will flutter around rapidly, making them easy to spot. The oval-shaped body of the adult whitefly is another distinguishing feature. Adults can be found on the undersides of plant leaves.

Eggs: Female whiteflies lay their eggs on the undersides of plant leaves. The eggs are usually small and difficult to see without a magnifying glass.

Nymphs and larvae: Once the eggs hatch, they turn into tiny “crawlers,” walking a short distance before settling at a feeding location on the plant. As they grow, they become nymphs, which are immobile and continue to feed on the plant sap.

To summarize, you can identify whiteflies by their:

  • Powdery white wings
  • Oval shape
  • Small size (1/16 to 1/10 inch)
  • Presence of eggs, nymphs, and larvae on the undersides of plant leaves

By getting familiar with these features, you’ll be able to spot whiteflies in your garden and take appropriate action to protect your plants.

Life Cycle of Whiteflies

Whiteflies go through four stages in their life cycle: eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults. Let’s learn more about each stage of their development.

Eggs:

Whiteflies lay oval, light green to yellow-green eggs on the undersides of leaves. These eggs are attached to the plant by short stalks.

Larvae:

After hatching, the nearly transparent nymphs emerge. They are flat, oval, and feed on plant sap. During this stage, they usually stay in one place.

Pupae:

The larvae then develop into the pupal stage, where they form a protective casing and undergo metamorphosis.

Adults:

Finally, whiteflies reach the adult stage, where they have four membranous wings coated with white powdery wax. Adults feed on plant sap, just like the larvae, and lay eggs to start the cycle over again.

To manage whiteflies effectively, it is crucial to understand their life cycle. This knowledge helps you choose appropriate control methods and target the pests at their most vulnerable stages. For example, using yellow sticky traps can help catch adult whiteflies, while applying insecticidal soap or horticultural oil can target the larvae before they develop into adults.

Whitefly Infestations

Common Signs

Whiteflies are tiny insects that feed on the sap of a plant’s leaves. Infestations can lead to many issues in your garden. One common sign of a whitefly infestation is the presence of tiny white insects on the underside of leaves. These insects will quickly flutter up and fly away when disturbed.

Another symptom of whitefly infestations is the excretion of a sticky substance called honeydew. This can promote the growth of sooty mold on the leaves of your plants, making them appear black and dirty. A more severe infestation can cause leaves to turn yellow or even die, leading to stunted growth in the affected plants.

Affected Plants

Whiteflies can attack a wide range of plants in your garden. Some common plants affected by whiteflies include:

  • Ornamental crops
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit-bearing plants

For example, Bemisia tabaci was found attacking a variety of ornamental plants in Florida greenhouses. Another species, the Greenhouse Whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum), can infest various plants and cause damage in a garden setting.

It’s essential to carefully inspect new plants for whiteflies before bringing them into your garden, as they can easily spread from one plant to another. By identifying the early signs of infestation, you can take quick action to limit the damage they cause and protect your plants from further harm.

Impact on Plants

Transmitted Diseases

Whiteflies are known to transmit several diseases to plants. Similar to aphids, they are efficient vectors for spreading harmful viruses. Some examples of viruses transmitted by whiteflies include:

  • Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus
  • Cassava Mosaic Virus
  • African Citrus Greening Virus

These viruses can severely damage crops and lead to significant losses in agricultural productivity.

Growth and Health Effects

When whiteflies feed on plants, they cause various issues that affect plant growth and health. Here are some consequences of whitefly infestations:

  • Sap extraction: As whiteflies feed on plant sap, they deprive the plants of essential nutrients, leading to weakened and stunted growth.
  • Honeydew production: Whiteflies excrete a sugary substance called honeydew, which attracts other pests like ants and can lead to the growth of sooty mold.
  • Sooty mold: The mold reduces the plant’s ability to photosynthesize, further hindering growth and affecting overall health.

To summarize, whiteflies not only transmit harmful diseases but also cause direct damage to plants by feeding on their sap, excreting honeydew, and promoting the growth of sooty mold. To protect your plants from these issues, it’s crucial to take appropriate measures for whitefly control and prevention.

Whiteflies and Other Pests

Whiteflies are a common pest in gardens and greenhouses. These tiny, sap-sucking insects are not true flies but are closely related to aphids. Some of the major species include the greenhouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum) and the silverleaf whitefly. Just like other pests, they can be quite a nuisance to plants and crops.

Other common plant pests include:

  • Mealybugs
  • Ants

Whiteflies and these other pests often attack plants in similar ways, damaging them and hindering their growth. To help you distinguish whiteflies from other pests, here are some key characteristics:

  • Whiteflies have tiny, pure white, moth-like wings
  • They are usually found on the undersides of leaves
  • When disturbed, they quickly flutter up and fly away

Now, let’s compare whiteflies with mealybugs and ants:

Pests Appearance Feeding Habits Damaging Effects
Whiteflies Tiny, white, moth-like wings Sap-sucking Stunted growth, leaf yellowing, and fruit distortion
Mealybugs Small, soft-bodied insects covered in fluffy, white wax Sap-sucking Leaf curling, stunted growth, and possible plant death
Ants Social insects with three distinct body sections Omnivorous Can protect other pests like aphids, leading to uncontrolled population growth

Dealing with whiteflies is possible through various methods. You can use natural predators, like ladybugs, or chemical applications. But remember, these pests can spread quickly and easily; so it’s important to monitor your plants and intervene promptly if you notice any infestation. The sooner you act, the better your chances of protecting your garden.

Preventing Whitefly Infestations

Natural Preventive Measures

To control whitefly infestations naturally, it’s important to maintain a healthy garden environment. Encourage beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, and predatory mites by planting flowers that attract them. Another method is to use yellow sticky traps near affected plants to capture adult whiteflies. Keep your garden clean by removing debris and weeds that may harbor whiteflies or their eggs.

When watering your plants, avoid creating excess humidity by watering early in the morning or using drip irrigation systems. This will help limit favorable conditions for whitefly development.

Chemical Treatments

In case of severe infestations, you might need to use chemical treatments to control whiteflies. To prevent resistance, use a combination of treatments, like horticultural oils, soaps, and insecticides.

  • Horticultural oils: products like neem oil are derived from natural sources and can smother whiteflies in their various stages.
  • Insecticidal soaps: these break down the whiteflies’ protective coatings, making them vulnerable to dehydration and infection.
  • Insecticides: consider using products with different modes of action, as this can help avoid resistance in whitefly populations.

Keep track of weather conditions when applying treatments, as certain insecticides tend to have reduced effectiveness in hot, sunny weather. Make sure to read and follow the product label instructions for optimal results.

Remember to monitor your garden regularly and stay informed about the best preventative measures and treatments. By combining both natural and chemical measures, you’ll be better equipped to manage whitefly infestations and keep your plants healthy.

Getting Rid of Whiteflies

Whiteflies are tiny, sap-sucking pests that can cause significant damage to your plants. Fortunately, there are several ways to effectively control and eliminate whitefly populations in your garden.

Natural Predators

One option for controlling whiteflies is to introduce their natural predators, such as ladybugs or lacewings, to your garden. These beneficial insects can help to keep whitefly populations in check.

  • Ladybugs: These seemingly harmless beetles are voracious predators of whiteflies and other tiny pests.
  • Lacewings: Similar to ladybugs, lacewings are also known to feed on whiteflies and are an excellent addition to your garden’s natural defenses.

Having these predators in your garden not only helps to control whiteflies but can also assist in maintaining the balance of your garden’s ecosystem.

Home Remedies

There are also several home remedies that can effectively combat whiteflies. Always exercise caution when using any homemade solutions.

  • Vacuuming: A handheld vacuum can be a useful tool in removing whiteflies from your plants. Gently vacuum the affected leaves, ensuring not to damage them. Dispose of the collected pests immediately to prevent reinfestation.
  • Soapy water solution: You can create a spray by mixing water and a few drops of mild dish soap. Spray the solution onto the affected plants, covering both the top and bottom of the leaves. This method can help to kill whiteflies without harming your plants or beneficial insects if used properly.

Remember, always test any homemade solution on a small portion of your plants before applying it to your entire garden.

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Post-Infestation Care

Plant Rehabilitation

After dealing with a whitefly infestation, it’s essential to help your infested plants recover. Here are a few steps to rehabilitate your affected crops, vegetables, ornamental plants, and garden:

  • Prune damaged parts: Trim off heavily infested leaves and branches, ensuring healthy growth for your plants.
  • Ensure proper watering: Adjust your watering schedule to provide adequate moisture without overwatering, which can lead to additional stress on recovering plants.

For new plants, it’s crucial to maintain a healthy environment and avoid reinfestation:

  • Choose resistant varieties: When adding new plants to your garden, opt for those less susceptible to whitefly infestation.
  • Maintain distance: Space out new plants from previously infested areas to prevent the spread of whiteflies.

Monitoring for Recurrences

Whiteflies can reinfest your garden, so it’s essential to-watch and react to any signs of their return. Methods to monitor for recurrences include:

  • Inspect plants regularly: Check the underside of leaves and stems of your crops, vegetables, and ornamental plants for adult whiteflies and their offspring.
  • Use yellow sticky traps: Place traps around your garden, particularly near new plants, to help spot whiteflies and control their population.
  • Introduce beneficial insects: Encouraging natural predators, such as ladybugs and lacewings, can help keep whitefly populations in check.

By following these plant rehabilitation and monitoring methods, you can ensure your garden remains healthy and protect it from future whitefly infestations.

Footnotes

  1. [OSU Extension]
  2. [University of Maryland Extension] 2
  3. [Wisconsin Horticulture] 2

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Giant Whitefly Infestation on Hibiscus

 

White webby moths
These pictures are of a colony of some tiny moths that have set up residence on my Hibiscus plant in Oceanside California. They dont seem to be eating the leaves, just stringing out large quantities of spiderweb like strands on the underside and laying their eggs in it. I’ve searched the internet endlessly and cant find them anywhere.
Brad

Hi Brad,
These are not moths. You have a Giant Whitefly infestation, Aleurodicus dugesii, an invasive species from Mexico. We ware linking to the University of California Integrated Statewide Pest Management Program website for more information. According to the site, you can: “Manage giant whiteflies in your landscape with an integrated program that includes removal of infested leaves and, if necessary, washing whiteflies off leaves with water. When choosing plants, consider species less susceptible to giant whitefly. iological
control agents are presently being introduced and have become established in parts of southern California. Check with your University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor about the status of the biological control program in your area. Insecticides are not generally recommended because they destroy the biological control agents. A forceful stream of water (syringing) directed at colonies can be just as effective as insecticide sprays.” Personally, we would use the strong water spray combined with leaf removal before the insecticide.

Letter 2 – Giant Whitefly

 

Strange “Webs”
June 14, 2010
Mr. Marlos, as the foremost bug expert in Los Angeles, can you tell me what insect (or arachnid, though I doubt it) makes these strange white drippy “webs?” This is a close-up of the ivy on my back fence. A couple seasons ago it was literally covered in them. I’m stumped.
Best Regards,
Mr. Kulkis

Giant Whitefly

Dear Mr. Kulkis,
How nice to hear from you.  Alas, you have Giant Whitefly, Aleurodicus dugesii, a freeliving Hemipteran that is native to Mexico, but since 1992, it have become established in California, Arizona, Florida and Texas.  Immature Nymphs produce waxy filaments as long as two inches that resemble cotton candy according to BugGuide.  We strongly recommend removing them with the strong jet from a hose.  Diligence with your hose will ensure that they will not become established as they can quickly infest many plants in the yard.

Thank you very much for the sage advice Mr. Marlos. And wow, congrats on the book! Penguin no less, that’s big time. Send me a link when it’s available for pre-sale on Amazon and I’ll support the cause.
Mr. K

Letter 3 – WHITEFLIES!

 

Hello,
I am growing an assortment of vegetables as well as tomatoes in pots on my screened in porch here in Florida. My tomatoes, although protected from the larger menaces due to the screen, have fallen victim to these very small white flying pests. Due to their size they are very difficult to describe other than the fact that they are extremely small, bright white and seem to live inside the flowers on the tomato plants. When I touch the Q-tip to the flower about four or five of these small flying insects come flying out. Is there anything you recommend for me to get rid of these nuisances, and will these little rascals prevent the plant from producing tomatoes? I have been using a Q-tip to cross pollinate. Out of the 12 plants I have only 2 tomatoes. Thank you,
Terrence

Dear Terrence,
It sounds like you have whiteflies. They can become a real infestation. They like shelter, preferring to stay out of the wind. Usually you can rid the plants of the buggers by a brisk spray of water from the hose. Strike quickly before you have a real problem. They should not prevent pollination which is more dependant upon warm nightime temperatures.

Great!! Thank you for the advice. I will give that a shot.
I hate to bother you with more questions, but I have seen a couple articles on the internet about using a mixture of Canola oil and water to keep the bugs off the plants. Is this a good idea for me to try, or will it harm my plants. Ground clove was recommended as well. Thanks again!!!
Terrence
Dear Terrence,
I’ve not tried the canola oil and water, but have heard it works. Sometimes I put a drop of mild dishsoap in water and spritz out of a bottle. This is good for aphids and all sucking insects including whiteflies. The soap helps to drown them. The canola oil probably does the same thing. Be careful not to use too much soap or oil as it might damage the plants worse than the insects. Also, try not to spray the plants in the hot sun which might cause burning of the tender shoots, and also in the evening which might encourage mildew. Morning is best. Ground cloves would get expensive and would not help with the sucking insects. Might be an ant deterrent

Letter 4 – Whiteflies

 

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?

Sincerely,

Nechelle Wong,
Highland Park, CA

Dear Nechelle,

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.

Letter 5 – Whiteflies at LACC

 

We realized we didn’t have a decent image of Whiteflies on our site, so we took advantage of the infestation on the hibiscus plants at LACC. Earlier in the week, a flock of Bushtits, Psaltriparus minimus, excitedly flitted in the shrubbery, twittering and snapping up the adult whiteflies that rose from the heavily filimented undersides of the leaves. The infestation is one of the worst we have seen, covering nearly every leaf on the shrubs.

Letter 6 – Whitefly Close-up

 

WhiteFly
I thought you guys might like a photo of a whitefly you did not seem to have one. Also the link to your snakeflies page is busted. This whitefly shot was taken at the Owens Rose Garden in Eugene Oregon. Great Site.
Thanks,
Pat Griffin

Nice Macro Photo Pat,
We have fixed the link problem. Thanks for your vigilence.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Whiteflies

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Frankie Reynoso
    September 6, 2023 9:53 pm

    White fly is a very unpleasant pest in gardens they are very persistent on plants like hibiscus and eugenia hedges and other tropical plants neem oil keeps them control but you need to spray,spray and spray as many times you need to…

    Reply

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