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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


item Serrano, Miguel
item Lapointe, Stephen
item Meyerdirk, Dale

Submitted to: Journal of Environmental Entomology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/22/2000
Publication Date: 4/15/2001
Citation: Serrano, M.S., Lapinte, S.L. and Dale E. Meyerdirk. 2001. Attraction of males by virgin females of the mealybug maconellicoccus hirsutus. Journal of Environmental Entomology. v.30(2): 339-345.

Interpretive Summary: The pink hibiscus mealybug (Maconellicoccus hirsutus) was detected in the Caribbean on Grenada in 1993. Since then, it has spread throughout the Lesser Antilles with devastating effects on the island countries of the region. It reached the US Virgin Islands in 1995 and Puerto Rico in 1997. USDA, APHIS, PPQ immediately established a biological control program with the cooperation of USDA, ARS and the Departments of Agriculture of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. These programs have been hindered by the lack of an easy method for detecting mealybug presence and spread. This paper describes the ability of virgin females to attract males for mating. Volatile compounds, called sex pheromones, are produced by females when ready to mate and normally mediate this attraction. We found that "calling" virgin females attract males from short distances in the laboratory, and from longer distances (50 m) in the field. Knowing that pheromone-mediated communication exists is the first step for isolating and synthesizing these compounds. Synthetic pheromones are used for two practical purposes: population monitoring and mating disruption. By attracting males to sticky cards baited with pheromone, an indication of the density of the mealybug population is obtained and colonization of new areas can be studied. After further refinements, baited traps can be used to capture large numbers of males and disrupt their mating cycles, as an additional tool for the integrated management of the pest. With the recent arrival of the pest on U.S. mainland (California) as well as in Mexico and Central America in 1999, timely detection of the pink hibiscus mealybug is of paramount importance for the biological control of this pest.

Technical Abstract: The pink hibiscus mealybug, Maconellicoccus hirsutus (Green) has been spreading throughout the Caribbean region since it was detected in Grenada in 1994 and has recently spread to Southern California, Mexico and Central America. Laboratory and field experiments using virgin females were conducted on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, in order to determine if females attract males with pheromones. Virgin females isolated in gelatin capsules attracted on average one male to each capsule over a period of 18 h in the laboratory. Adhesive traps baited with virgin females and placed on hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis L.) in the field, captured males at all three study localities on St. Croix. Virgin females attracted more males at 0 -10 m from infested hibiscus, but were capable of attracting males at 50 m from the source of infestation. Attractiveness of virgin females to flying males strongly suggests involvement of a female-produced sex pheromone. The potential for isolation and synthesis of a sex pheromone for population monitoring and control is discussed.

Last Modified: 08/22/2017
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