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Closely related to aphids, whiteflies are soft-bodied, winged insects. They can be found in almost any region, but they are so tiny that they are usually camouflaged.
Whiteflies are tiny, reaching only 1/12 of an inch, and are somewhat triangular in shape. They are often seen in groupings on the undersides of leaves. They are active during the day, so they are easier to spot than most other pests. Whiteflies are known to overwinter and reproducing throughout year-round in temperate climates.
All species can affect a large variety of plants. You’ll often see them in mid to late summer when the temperatures get warm; they are also common greenhouse pests.
Whiteflies tend to munch on ornamentals and summer vegetable plants, including eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and okra. They also like sweet potatoes and anything from the cabbage family.
Whiteflies drink plant juices and secrete a sticky substance called honeydew. Due to whitefly feeding, plants quickly become weak and may become unable to carry out photosynthesis. Leaves will wilt, yellow and pale, and growth will be stunted.
Honeydew is a sign that the flies have been feeding for several days, and you may also begin to see ants.
Check for white insects around the veins on the underside of leaves, even if they aren’t visible— and feel the leaves for honeydew. If the whiteflies are feeding, they’ll suddenly fly off in a swarm, so their presence is pronounced.
You may find eggs laid on the undersides of leaves as well. This is the start of a new generation! When they hatch, whitefly larvae will look like little white ovals without legs; they don’t move, but they immediately begin drinking the juice. This is why most gardeners miss whiteflies until it’s too late. Female whiteflies are able to produce up to 400 eggs, which hatch in between one and four weeks.
Control and Prevention of Whiteflies
To control whiteflies, there are various solutions. The biggest tip is: start early! In the mornings and evenings, check the back of the leaves for eggs or notice when little bugs “fly away” as you approach. Be sure to call a licensed pest control professional.
How to Prevent Whiteflies
Allowing natural predators to hang around will prevent whiteflies from ever exploding in population. Spiders, dragonflies, and ladybugs are a few of many beneficial insects that help control a whitefly population. Hummingbirds also happen to be another predator.
Avoid chemical insecticides; they are resistant, and in turn, you can harm the beneficial insects—their natural predators—and the insects which pollinate the garden!