In the past few years, the population of whiteflies in the United States has been on the rise. With over 1550 different kinds of whiteflies currently known, chances are that you’ll encounter these insects at some point. When you do, it can be helpful to know what whiteflies are, what they look like, and how they can affect your home and garden.
What are Whiteflies?
Whiteflies are small, winged insects that are drawn to crops of fruits and vegetables of various kinds. They are similar in appearance to aphids, but are so small in size that they can be difficult to see. While they reproduce in warm climates, they can also survive harsh winter weather conditions, as well. In addition to appearing on outdoor plants, they also tend to target houseplants and plants grown in greenhouses.
Whiteflies can cause damage to crops by chewing through plants directly, but have the greatest impact on plants by the diseases that they carry between their feeding sites. As a host for several serious kinds of plant bacteria, these pests can damage large sites of growth and affect multiple plants in your garden within a short window of time. Currently, whiteflies are estimated to be carriers for more than sixty different kinds of plant diseases.
The Life Cycle of Whiteflies
A single adult female whitefly can lay anywhere between 200 and 400 eggs at a time, which usually take between a week and a month to hatch and mature. Once the eggs have hatched, the small crawling insects will shift away from the hatching site and spread themselves out on the leaves to feed. From that point, the whiteflies no longer move until they are young adults. Instead, they will remain in a cluster on the leaf through several stages of maturation.
In a single year, numerous generations of whitefly populations can be born. They tend to take just under a month to develop from larvae to adult stages and can live for up to two months. Most whiteflies lay their eggs during the early springtime, although they may be active in reproduction throughout the warmer months of the year, as well.
Knowing how to identify whiteflies and what kinds of damage they are likely to cause can help you to manage your plants well, keeping them healthy and strong against infestations that may occur from the whiteflies themselves, the diseases that they can carry, or the predator insects that they tend to attract.
How to Identify Whiteflies
Whiteflies can be hard to detect because of their small size. To look for them, turn over the leaves of your plants and watch for clusters of small white insects or sets of eggs. When they feed on plants, they also leave behind a sticky mixture that can be a carrier for disease as well, so if you begin to notice weakened plants that are dried out or yellow in color, you may want to feel the leaves of your plants, as well, to see if you can detect any stickiness.
During the larvae stages in particular, whiteflies can be difficult to spot, as they are still fairly translucent in color at this stage of their life cycle. If you suspect that whiteflies may be present in your home garden, continue to keep a close watch on the growth and health of your plants for several weeks, as mature whiteflies may be easier to spot.
What Whitefly Damage Looks Like
The most common kind of damage that homeowners are likely to experience from whiteflies is a plant that is yellowed and dried out or plants that have stunted growth. You can also feel the sticky material left from whiteflies when they feed on the leaves of your plants. This material may hold a number of bacteria that can cause damage to your plant.
Because of the number of plant diseases that whiteflies can be carriers for, it can be difficult to know what other kinds of damage to attribute to whiteflies directly. Additionally, their eggs can attract a number of other predatory insects, so if you begin to see secondary infestations, it can be a clue that you may be dealing with a population of whiteflies.
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