Approximately an eighth of an inch in length, mealybugs are the very definition of an unarmored insect.(1) Their soft bodies are flat, oval or circular; some secrete wax; all have a rubbery outer coating to go along with a white powder covering their bodies and wax string protruding from the rear.
Fatal Egg Laying
After a female lays her supply of between 300 and 600 eggs, she dies. The eggs are wrapped inside waxy sacs that attach to stems of plants and leaves. It takes between seven and ten days for the eggs to hatch, at which point yellow larvae crawl out. In the case of the long-tailed mealybug, the lifecycle is much shorter, as the female gives birth to living young rather than eggs that need to hatch.
Overall, the complete lifecycle of a mealybug takes between six weeks and two months, depending on where it is born and what species it belongs to.
Multiple Yearly Generations
The lifecycle process of mealybugs repeats itself numerous times during a calendar year, in overlapping fashion.(2) Each different species has critical minimum and maximum threshold temperatures, below and above which they either fall into a dormant lifecycle or die altogether.
In a sub-equatorial climate like Australia, for example, mealybug lifecycles hit their peak in the spring and fall each year. The ideal conditions for their propagation involve high humidity and temperatures in the mid-seventies.
Female mealybugs generally go through five moultings before reaching adulthood, while male mealybugs grow within silk cocoons and come out as fully winged adults. These males have no mouths. Rather, instead of feeding, they are genetically designed for the sole purpose of impregnating females and propagating the endless lifecycle.
Mealybugs are part of the diet of the nine-spotted ladybug, once a staple of various U.S. regions.(3) But thanks to the introduction of foreign species of ladybugs, the nine-spotted domestic ranks have dwindled greatly in recent years.
(1) Kent State University – Mealybugs, Retrieved July 17, 2011 from http://www.ento.okstate.edu/ddd/insects/mealybugs.htm
(2) The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust – Mealybugs, Retrieved July 17, 2011 from http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/plant_info/pests_diseases/fact_sheets/mealybugs
(3) Albany Times-Union – Backyard Naturalist, June 26, 2011, Retrieved July 17, 2011 from http://www.timesunion.com/living/article/BACKYARD-NATURALIST-1440449.php