The Agricultural Research Service has granted an exclusive license to South Carolina firm to produce and market an ARS-developed pheromone that can help control the pink hibiscus mealybug, an insect pest that can cause up $750 million in damage annually to U.S. crops.


Chemist Aijun Zhang in Beltsville, Md., developed the pheromone, which mimics the female mealybug's scent, according to a news release.

South Carolina Scientific Inc., of Columbia, S.C., will market the chemical.

The pink hibiscus mealybug (Maconellicoccus hirsutus)—also known as the pink mealybug or hibiscus mealybug—causes severe economic problems worldwide by attacking a wide range of plants, including vegetable and citrus.

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 Florida in 2002.

In California, state officials have contained the pest to residential areas of Imperial County. In Florida, it is expected to spread statewide.

The sex pheromone, placed inside sticky traps, effectively monitors and traps male mealybug.

By luring males to traps, the pheromone would provide a much more useful detection tool.

There's also a second potential control strategy. Zhang found that relatively high concentrations of the pheromone repel males away from the source, disrupting mating.

But natural enemies of the mealybug are not attracted to the scent, so biological control would not be compromised.

For more information on the pest, click here.

To subscribe to the print version of The Grower, click here.