Their life cycle
A mealybug produces a new generation about every 30 days. Each egg sac may contain as many as 600 eggs.
Plants they attack
The mealybug is related to another houseplant pest called scale, and both thrive on a wide variety of indoor and outdoor species, including ficus, philodendron, coleus, fuchsia, begonia, citrus, fern, dracaena, ivy, and poinsettia.
Why they're a problem
They feed by sucking plant sap, which weakens the plant and causes leaf drop. They also excrete copious amounts of sticky "honeydew," leading to the growth of sooty mold.
Organic damage control
Start by isolating the infected plant. Spray as strong a stream of water as the plant can tolerate; this should dislodge most of the bugs. Repeat if you see new egg sacs.
Swab each mealybug with cotton saturated in rubbing alcohol, wait a couple of days, and then rinse the plant with water.
Spray with insecticidal soap.
The beneficial mealybug destroyer Cryptolaemus montrouzieri is useful in greenhouses and for severe infestations.
Photo: Florida Division of Plant Industry Archive, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bugwood.org