Pink Hibiscus Mealybug Pheromone Licensed
Durham December 16, 2008
The Agricultural Research
Service (ARS) has granted an exclusive license to South Carolina
Scientific, Inc., of Columbia, S.C., to produce and market an ARS-developed
insect sex pheromone that can help control the pink hibiscus mealybug, a crop
pest that can cause up $750 million in damage annually to U.S. crops.
Zhang at the ARS
Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., developed the
pheromone. The pink hibiscus mealybug (Maconellicoccus hirsutus) causes
severe economic problems worldwide by attacking a wide range of plants,
including vegetable and citrus crops, forest trees, and many species of
The pink hibiscus mealybug is native to Asia, but appeared on U.S.
soil in 1984 in Hawaii via imported cargo. It was found in California in 1999
and reached Florida in 2002.
The sex pheromone, placed inside sticky traps, effectively monitors
and traps mealybug males in the field by drawing them into the traps. The
initial pheromone development was performed under a research agreement between
ARS and South Carolina Scientific, Inc. Work is now under way to improve the
process for chemically producing the pheromone.
By luring males to traps, the sex pheromone would provide a much more
economical, convenient, and useful detection and monitoring tool. There's also
a second potential control strategy. Zhang found that relatively high
concentrations of the pheromone repel males away from the source. In this
scenario, the pheromone could control the pest by disrupting mating.
Another advantage of the pheromone, Zhang found, is that natural
enemies, or biological controls, of the pest aren't lured to the pheromone
source. This allows scientists to chart the effectiveness of the biological
controls used to combat the mealybug without artificially concentrating these
natural enemies near the traps.
ARS is a scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of