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Female pink hibiscus mealybug.
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Researchers Discover Sex Potion to Ensnare
Mealybug Pests By
Rosalie Marion Bliss
April 21, 2005
Agricultural Research Service
(ARS) scientists have found a way to entice male pink hibiscus mealybugs (PHMs)
to congregate. That leaves the pesky insects--which attack more than 200
species of ornamental, vegetable and citrus crops--open to detection.
A team of researchers led by chemist
Aijun Zhang at the
ARS Chemicals Affecting Insect
Behavior Laboratory (CAIBL), Beltsville, Md., discovered the two compounds
that together make up the female PHM's sex pheromone.
The compounds provide a timely method with which to monitor and
ultimately reduce infestations. PHMs escape conventional insecticides partly
because their outer coatings, or cuticles, are resistant to topical
Officials with the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service (APHIS), Riverdale, Md., are using the PHM-pheromone
blend as a sex lure to track mealybug pest infestations in Florida and
California. APHIS is also using the pheromone blend to chart the effectiveness
of "biological controls," or natural enemies used to combat agricultural pest
The ARS scientists are now working with cooperators to improve both
the process for producing the PHM pheromone and the method for using the
compounds to control infestations. Such methods include technologies to disrupt
the PHMs' mating activities, as well as to attract them on a mass scale for
The discovery was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
about the research in the April 2005 issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is USDA's chief in-house scientific research agency.