What the Heck Is That?!?!

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Popping up around Currituck County and other parts of North Carolina, this invasive pest can cause a real eyesore. This small, cottony insect looks less like an insect and more like a scale on the plants on which they feed. These insects do not move much and are often found in large numbers on trees. You’ll know this insect when you see it as they produce honeydew, which leads to the formation of sooty mold underneath the trees where they feed. Do you think you know what insect is being described and is depicted below? Test your expertise with this installment of “What the Heck is That?!?!”

This insect is best identified by the white female scale and the host plant it is found on: crape myrtle trees. If the clues above lead you to guess the crape myrtle scale you are correct! Another way to identify this scale is by the pink substance that comes out of the female scales when punctured (image below). Female crape myrtle bark scales (CMBS) produce a white fibrous sac to defend themselves from predators. These sacs will also contain eggs that once hatched become crawlers that can freely move around the tree. Once mature, the males will develop wings and fly off to mate, while the females will produce the felt-like covering and stay immobile for the remainder of their lives.

Scale insects feed on the sugars the plants produce. This feeding drains the plants of nutrients and leads to yellowed leaves, weakened stems and roots. Crape myrtle bark scale feeding is no exception. Feeding and sooty mold formation reduces blooms, photosynthesis, and aesthetic value of crape myrtle trees. Excessive honeydew production leads to trunks, limbs, and leaves becoming completely black. Eventually, these blackened trees will weaken and produce no blooms. Interestingly, this injury does not appear to be fatal to the trees.

pink gel from female crape myrtle bark scale

Photo from Mississippi State University Extension

More information and control methods on crape myrtle bark scale can be found on N.C. Cooperative Extension, Currituck County Center’s Pest Alert! – Crape Myrtle Bark Scale. If you have content (images, ideas, etc.) you would like to have featured in the upcoming installments of “What the Heck is That?!?!” email or call Adam Formella at adam_formella@ncsu.edu or 252-232-2262.