Floridian Nature

Learn about Florida's beautiful and unique nature.

Florida Insects: Garden Pests
Florida mole cricketMole Crickets- Mole crickets are serious pests of Florida turf. Mole crickets damage turf by feeding on the plant roots, stems and leaves and by tunneling through the soil. Mole cricket feeding is not considered as damaging as their tunneling. Mole crickets spend most of their lives underground. Mole crickets are thick-bodied insects about 1-2 inches long, with large beady eyes and shovel-like forelimbs highly developed for burrowing and swimming. The adult mole cricket may fly as far as five miles during mating season, is active most of the year, and spends the winter in hibernation. Younger insects can have shorter wings, and their appearance varies by species, with some resembling grasshoppers or very large ants or dark-colored "termites" when wings are short.

garden aphids in FloridaAphids- Aphids or "plant lice" are soft bodied pear-shaped insects generally less than 1/8 inch long. Their color varies according to species, however the common aphids are usually green, yellow or black. The most distinguishing feature in the identification of aphids is the two short cornicles or tubes which extend from the end of their body. These structures are partly responsible for secretions of a fluid thought to be useful as a defense mechanism. Most aphids, even adults, are wingless but when colonies become overcrowded or the host plant becomes undesirable, winged forms are produced and these establish new colonies. In Florida, almost all aphids are females which reproduce without mating! Each female aphid produces 50 to 100 daughters during her life span, and each daughter can begin reproducing in six to eight days. Aphids have piercing-sucking mouthparts and cause damage by sucking the plant juices. They are commonly found on the stems, undersides of leaves and on flower buds in colonies of individuals. However, their ability to transmit plant virus diseases may be more harmful than any direct feeding damage.

Florida mealybugLong-tailed Mealybug- Longtailed mealybugs have been found on at least 26 plant families. Dracaena appears to be the favored host, but most flowering and ornamental foliage plants are susceptible. Mealybugs suck phloem sap. When abundant, they can reduce tree vigor, foul plants with sticky honeydew, and promote growth of blackish sooty mold that fouls fruit. Mealybug populations are usually very low. They occasionally are pests of young trees Nymphs and adult female mealybugs (order Pseudococcidae) are soft, oval, white powder- or wax-covered insects. Adult males are tiny, two winged insects with two long tail filaments, but are rarely seen. In many mealybug species the female lays tiny yellow eggs in an ovisac, a mass of eggs intermixed with white wax. Longtailed mealybug produces no external egg sacs; it gives live birth to nymphs. Longtailed has two to four overlapping generations a year. All stages can occur throughout the year.

armored scalesArmored Scales- The armored and soft scales are one of the most destructive groups of insects that attack ornamental crops. The armored scales secrete a waxy covering over their bodies. This covering is not an integral part of the insect's body. The scale lives and feeds under this covering which resembles a plate of armor, hence the name. They vary in size from 1/16 inch to 1/8 inch in diameter and can be almost any color, depending on the species. Armored scales may be circular, oval, oblong, thread-like, or even pear-shaped. The female's armor is larger than that of the male, while the shape and color may be similar or distinctly different, depending upon the particular species. Three hundred-fifty species of armored scales occur in the United States and about 175 species are present in Florida. Eighty-five species of soft scales occur in the United States, with 60 species in Florida. The eggs are laid underneath the waxy covering and hatch over a period of one to three weeks. The newly hatched scales (called crawlers) move about over the plant until they locate succulent new growth. They insert their piercing-sucking mouthparts into the plant and begin feeding. Scales cause damage by sucking the juices from the plants. Heavily infested plants appear unhealthy and produce little new growth. Scales feeding on the undersides of leaves may cause yellow spots to appear on the top sides, and these spots progressively become larger as the scales continue to feed. If the scales are not controlled, leaves will drop prematurely, sometimes killing portions of twigs and branches. Scales also feed on trunks and stems of plants.

Tomato hornwormHornworms- The tomato or tobacco hornworm starts life as tiny larva, but very quickly it can grow to 4 inches long and as thick as your index finger as it munches through your garden. One hornworm can defoliate an entire tomato plant if it isn't stopped in time. I had some hornworms attack my tomato plants this summer and the amount they ate in twenty four hours is incredible! Tomato hornworms feed only on solanaceous plants, most often on tomato. However, larvae will also attack eggplant, pepper, and potato. There are many solonaceous weeds that also serve as alternate hosts, including: horsenettle, jimsonweed and nightshade. Eggs of the tomato hornworm are deposited singly on both the lower and upper surface of leaves in late spring. The eggs hatch in six to eight days and are oval, smooth, light green to yellow in color, and measure 0.10 cm in diameter. The caterpillar reaches the final instar in 3-4 weeks, and is 3 1/2 to 4 inches when fully mature. Fully-grown larvae then drop off of the plants and burrow into the soil to pupate. During the summer months, moths will emerge from pupae in about 2 weeks. Moths emerge from the soil, mate, and then begin to deposit the eggs of the next generation on tomato plants. By early fall, the pupae will remain in the soil all winter and emerge as a moth the following spring.

chinch bug damage to lawn in FloridaSouthern Chinch Bug- The southern chinch bug is an insect pest of St. Augustine grass,  a turf and pasture grass grown throughout the southern United States. This tiny black insect, rarely measuring over 6 mm in length. The wings are white with a black spot on the margins of the forewings. The Southern Chinch Bug causes millions of dollars in damage per year, as homeowners seek to control chinch bug outbreaks by applying insecticides and replacing damaged grass. An infested lawn displays discolored patches, which are usually circular in shape. Injury typically occurs first in water-stressed areas along the edges of the lawn or where the grass is growing in full sunlight.
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