Little waxy bugs, little worry

Flocking that is characteristic of the small flatid planthopper called <i>Metcalfa pruinosa</i>.

Flocking that is characteristic of the small flatid planthopper called Metcalfa pruinosa.

I’ve been receiving some frantic phone calls of late about a small insect that covers the stems of plants with some white waxy material.  One person described it as “coming back with a vengance,” after battling it last year.

The not-so-fearsome little insect is Metcalfa pruinosa.  It’s often a good sign with an insect when it doesn’t have a common name, because we tend to give common names only to insects that are 1) very noticeable, 2) pretty, or 3) pests.  This little guy is none of these things, though it is not uncommon.  Most years it’s around at such low levels that no one seems to mind or notice.

Metcalfa pruinosa belongs to the flatid family of planthoppers.  It is relatively common in Texas, though not often seen by the casual gardener.  Damage to ornamental plants is minor, but may include occasional damage to small twigs due to egg laying.  The most significant aspect of this insect is the waxy flocking exuded by the nymphs.  Lot of this flocking can detract from the appearance of the plant, though plants don’t seem to be hurt by it.

Because the insects are not considered damaging, I don’t recommend treatment.  If they really bother you, insecticidal soap or horticultural oil are two low-impact sprays that should help reduce or eliminate the problem.

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