Whitefly: Attacking Plants and Leaving a Sticky Mess

Fort Lauderdale residents are noticing an increasingly pervasive nuisance pest in the rugose spiraling whitefly. These pests have invaded South Florida, originally spotted in 2009 in Miami-Dade. The pest lays eggs in a spiral pattern on leaves. When the eggs hatch, the flies feed off leaves and then secrete a sticky goo that covers leaves and anything below where the insects are. If the goo isn’t cleaned up, sooty mold forms.

The whitefly infestations have been observed to spread very quickly. One tree nursery and mulch manufacturer noticed that the 30-acre farm was totally infested. “I’ve never seen anything infect anything so quickly. You blink and all of a sudden your entire palm tree farm is infested,” said Dave Tomlinson, vice president of Amerigrow Recycling.

Michael Orfanedes, with the University of Florida and Broward County Extension Education commented, “It’s a nuisance of historical proportions. The whiteflies may disfigure [trees] and even potentially weaken them, but people need to be careful not to overact. The most significant problem to date is the nuisance factor, which is considerable and extensive.”

Whitefly infestations can be controlled using natural predators like Lady Beetles and by using natural soaps and spraying with a strong stream of water, or with various pesticides. There are three types of whitefly currently found in Florida: The ficus whitefly, the rugose spiraling whitefly, and the Bondar’s nesting whitefly.