Agave (Agavaceae) plants create aesthetically pleasing vegetation in xeriscape gardens, spaces with low-water plants. Similar in appearance to cacti, agave are succulent perennials with fleshy, spiny leaves that are sometimes lined with sharp teeth. They range in size from small plants that are ideal for indoors to 12-foot-tall structures with stems that can tower above leaves for up to 40 feet. Enemies of agave include several types of bugs that can mar the plant’s appearance and lead to severe damage.
Scales include three types of insects and over 1,000 species in North America. This diverse group of bugs can severely damage agave by piercing the flesh of plants and feeding on sap. Infested plants have discolored leaves and retarded growth. Armored scales, soft scales and mealybugs all belong to the scale insect family. Armored scales that attack agave include latania scale (Hemiberlesia lataniae), oleander scale (Aspidiotus nerii) and oystershell scale (Lepidosaphes ulmi). They have a hard covering to protect their bodies and the eggs of females. In addition to sucking sap, soft scales and mealybugs produce waste called honeydew. Black mold grows on the honeydew, causing further damage to plants. Soft scales that feed on agave include the hemispherical species (Saissetia coffeae). The mealybug enemy of the plant is the large yucca mealybug (Puto yuccae).
Snout weevils (Scyphophorus acupunctatus) are serious pests and feed on several species of agave. The brownish-black insects are about a half-inch long and have long snouts. They chew on plants and leave rotting wounds. Female snout weevils lay eggs in the base of the agave. The larvae feed on the plant’s succulent core. Damaged plants begin to collapse as tissue rot develops, and they eventually die.
Leaf-footed Plant Bugs
When leaf-footed plant bugs pierce the flesh of agave, they leave a light yellow scar on the plant. They are larger than scales and snout weevils, and they can grow up to an inch in length. They are easily recognizable. They have a brown narrow body, a pointed head and a white band across the back. During cold weather, they find protected areas such as woodpiles, tree trunk cracks and piles of debris.
Controlling the presence of agave bugs includes a mixture of methods. Natural enemies such as parasitic wasps that eat scales may help control pest populations. Low-toxic solutions of insecticidal soap and horticultural oil sprays can eradicate small infestations. Commercially available spray pesticides that are stronger can kill pests, but they may damage nearby plants and kill beneficial insects.
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