Not So Grand Scale

What gardener hasn’t despaired over an infestation of scale or mealy bugs at some point in their gardening life?

IMG_2931

Hoya

Take my hoya as an example. The vine had wound itself around the planter stand to such an extent that other pot plants sharing the space were suffering. It was staging a coup. Even worse, the hoya flowers were concealed by the knotted and twisted leaves and stems. For all its colonising, the hoya was not at its best. I braced myself, and through gritted teeth took to the problem with my secateurs. As I chopped through the tangle, shock! Horror! The vine was invaded by scale, mealy bugs and ants!

scale_insect_and_ant

Scale with ant feeding on honeydew

As is my practice, I consulted Mr Google for nature-friendly answers. What I discovered gave me new respect for these so-called pests. I have to clarify at this point that ‘pests’ are like ‘weeds’. A totally subjective definition depending on who’s doing the looking.

Some research uncovered the following: Scale (of the order hemiptera) are incredibly diverse  – there are about 8,000 described species. They are mostly parasitic, using plants as hosts, feeding from their vascular systems from which the scale produce honeydew, a sweet, sticky excretion. Well, so I’m told. I passed on imbibing to test the veracity of this.

To me, one of the most fascinating facts is that some scale insects  are associated with species of ants that act like tiny sheep dogs, herding and carrying the young scale to more favourable, protected sites to feed. It appears the ants share a symbiotic relationship with the scale whereby they assist feeding and are rewarded by being able to farm the honeydew the scale produce. The ants are crucial to many species of crawlers, who lose the use of their legs if they are female, and stay put for life. Only the males retain their legs and use them in seeking females for mating. Mmm.

But I digress. As fascinating as these little critters are, and despite my new found respect for their collaborative efforts to get on in the world, the problem of my hoya remained. Having chopped the affected parts right back, I salvaged enough for some cuttings which have struck well and are ready to be planted out. Together with extensive roots, one cutting even has flower buds developing.

The question of scale stayed with me. I reflected on the manner of connections, the symbiosis, the collaboration where both the scale and the ants benefited. Although, the plant didn’t fare so well out of the deal as far as I can see. In my attempt to save the hoya (for my own selfish reasons) I have denied the survival of other species. I can also see how these considerations might apply on a human global scale.

Sometimes, one people’s gain is at the expense of another’s suffering.

The Web of Life is a tangled one.

“Pull a thread here and you’ll find it’s attached to the rest of the world.”
Nadeem Aslam

The feature image of scale and the ant feeding on honeydew was sourced through creative commons for public domain use.

Information on scale insects https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scale_insect

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30 responses to “Not So Grand Scale

    • Brenda, they are not flowers but the actual mealy bugs. If you look carefully toward the top you can just see the ant’s legs.
      As Newton says: ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’

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  1. Good luck with your infestation. You may be disrupting a symbiotic relationship by removing the pests but the Hoya is only there in the first place thanks to your care. Gardening is not a natural process! By the way, this post doesn’t view quite as you intended. There’s no picture of mealy bugs and ants showing and Brenda’s quite right about the top picture – definitely candy pink Hoya flowers.

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  2. I had scale on some indoor plants that I could not get rid of, despite many efforts. In the end I had to ditch the plants as keeping them just meant they spread to other non-effected plants. Who said gardening was easy. What? No-one? 😀

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    • Gardening is a constant challenge Jude. I have found that if my plants are vulnerable through lack of water, nutrition, root bind or any other thing, then they are open to attack.
      This is a recipe I found useful from the Gardening Australia website: Scale and Mealybugs: Make an oil preparation that suffocates them by mixing four tablespoons of dishwashing liquid into one cup of vegetable oil. Mix one part of that mixture to about twenty parts of water, put it in your sprayer and spray the affected plants. Hope it works for you.

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  3. Those scale insects in the photo are rather pretty! There’s a shrub outside my window that seems to be infested by a type of black scale – I’ve tried cutting bits out of it, but I think I’m fighting a losing battle.

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    • There are simple measures you can take Denise. If you rub them with your fingernail they come off but if there are too many for that, you can use a detergent mix to spray them. this is one I use from Gardening Australia website: Scale and Mealybugs: Make an oil preparation that suffocates them by mixing four tablespoons of dishwashing liquid into one cup of vegetable oil. Mix one part of that mixture to about twenty parts of water, put it in your sprayer and spray the affected plants. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I had the same problem with a large Hoya plant that was given to me, it was challenging trying to get rid of the bugs, which did spread to most of my other plants. In fact, I never was able to, I gave up after trying for a year and bought all new plants.

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    • I’m also cultivating a live and let live attitude to my garden. Some years it’s grasshoppers, some years scale and some years my ignorance. But one thing that keeps growing is the enjoyment and enlightenment having a garden brings

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  5. This year in our apartment building we had an infestation of Argentine ants: clever beasties on many counts. The nice man who massacred them advised us to remove two bushes, a Mexican orange blossom and a daphne, because they exude sap that aphids love and then along come the six-legged farmers. Both trees had suffered badly and were crowded, so one has gone and the other is doomed. Gardens do need renewing from time to time, so I’m philosophical. There will always be more ants and more aphids.

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  6. This was an interesting article Robyn, I learn so much whenever I come here. As I was reading I Googled scale and couldn’t believe all the different images that popped up in the results. The mealy bugs look like plants themselves.

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