Another Serious Threat for Our Coconuts
by Christie Jones, FTBG Curator of Palms & Cycads
Look out Floridians. It's no longer coming. Red palm mite is here. Confirmed this December in Palm Beach and Broward Counties, it is only a matter of time before it sweeps through all our backyards and into the state's huge palm industry.
This little guy is called red palm mite (Raoiella indica) because all stages of its life cycle are bright red. One of them is hardly visible to the naked eye, but you won't have to worry about spotting just one. They multiply with lightning speed so that, by the time symptoms are noticeable, there are hundreds or thousands of mites on each infested tree.
Red palm mites stick their sucking snouts into the stomata of leaves and feed directly from deep within the leaf. This action causes mechanical damage to the stomata so that they are no longer able to close and the leaf desiccates. The affected leaves turn yellow, then brown and hang against the trunk of the tree. Symptoms are easily confused with lethal yellowing. The difference is the visible red dots on the undersides of the leaves. Shaking the leaf over a white piece of paper is an easy test. If red dots appear on the paper, then you have red palm mite.
And finally, to top it all off, this mite is not very choosy about its host. It has been found not just on coconuts but on more than 20 species of palms, bananas, heliconias and gingers. Researchers are working now to determine what chemical or biological controls are most effective.
For more information visit: http://www.doacs.state.fl.us/pi/enpp/ento/red_palm_mite.html . If you believe you have found the red palm mite call the Florida Department of Agriculture's toll-free helpline at 888-397-1517. Photo courtesy of Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: Plant Industry Division.