Thanks to the NC Cooperative Extension for this information:
If you enjoy house plants there may come a time when you must deal with a mealybug
infestation. Female mealybugs are soft oval insects without wings.Mealybugs are up to 1/8 inch long. Some species are covered with fluffy wax and
others have long, tails of fluffy wax. Male mealybugs are tiny,
gnatlike insects with two wings and long tails of white wax. Mealybug
eggs are very small but are covered by a conspicuous dense, fluffy,
white mass of wax called the ovisac. Very young mealybug (nymphs) are
flat, oval and yellow. Older nymphs of some species are covered with
fluffy, white wax.
Mealybugs are pests of ornamental crops
They are most active in warm, dry weather. Your house plants are grown in an environment that is ideal for mealybug to grow and reproduce. Most
species of ornamental plants can be infested with mealybugs.
Mealybugs damage plants by inserting their threadlike mouthparts into
any part of the plant and sucking out sap. Mealybugs excrete honeydew,
a sweet, sticky liquid. The citrus mealybug has a toxin in its saliva
which causes its host plants to drop leaves and buds. Heavily infested
plants are disfigured by the mealybugs, their ovisacs, and honeydew.
Female mealybugs have no wings and must be transported directly to or
near the next host plant. They can travel short distances by crawling.
Small numbers of mealybugs are easily overlooked as they tend to wedge
into crevices on plants. Mealybugs are usually found at the base of
stems (or petioles of plants with long petioles such as African
violets). After the first batch of eggs hatch, the infestation becomes
very noticeable. As their numbers increase, mealybugs of all sizes can
be found crawling around or feeding on all surfaces of the plant.
Each female usually lays from 200 to 600 eggs in the thick ovisac. Some
species of mealybugs give birth to live young. After several weeks, the
nymphs develop into adults. Male nymphs secrete a tiny, fluffy cocoon
and develop into winged adults. Males then fly about seeking females to
Mealybugs are not easy to control.
Because the eggs are enmeshed in the waxy fluff, it is difficult to get
a pesticide through to kill them. If an infestation is discovered early
enough on a few cherished house plants, the mealybugs may be removed by
a cotton swab dipped in alcohol or fingernail polish remover. Keep an
eye on the plants for a few weeks to make sure no mealybugs are
overlooked. If a large number of plants are infested, dip or spray the
plants thoroughly with an insecticidal soap. This treatment may have to
be repeated two or more times at weekly intervals since new mealybugs
hatch from egg masses which might have been missed by the initial
Mealybugs on Ficus
An especially tastey treat, mealybugs love ficus trees. The photo shown here is from a ficus that a customer brought in. This level of infestation shows leaves completely covered in the sticky residue. While this plant is not lost, some serious work will be needed to restore it to health. George recommends repotting in sterile potting soil. Before repotting, the roots should be cleaned and dipped into a solution of half rubbing alchohol and half water. The leaves should also be wiped with this solution and the pot should be toroughly cleaned with bleach.