Question of the Week – Number 2: August 27, 2020

Citrus flatid planthopper surrounding a pyracantha twig earlier this summer.

“What is this white, cottony growth that’s all over my shrubs?”

Somewhere around mid-summer each year I start getting questions from people who have encountered this fuzzy white “stuff” on the twigs and leaves of azaleas, fruit trees, pyracanthas, citrus, pittosporums and a dozen or more other types of plants.

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Once in a while the people have even gotten close enough to realize that there is a living, breathing, fast-moving insect in the middle of each of these masses of fuzz.

This is the handiwork of the citrus flatid planthopper (Metcalfa pruinosa). The white, wooly material is camouflage meant to protect the young nymphs. As they mature, they develop into flattened white insects that move very quickly to avoid detection should you approach.

This photo by Lyle Buss from the University of Florida website shows an adult citrus flatid planthopper walking around in the wooly camouflage created by its nymphs.

Here is a link to information from the University of Florida Extension Service. As Alex Bolques tells us there, while this insect resembles mealybugs and cottony cushion scale, it is unrelated. And, while both of those pests can be quite damaging, this planthopper is unlikely to do anything harmful to its host plants. It’s yet another marvel of nature to enjoy and leave alone.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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