Agriculture: Citrus Pest Management Guidelines

Cottony Cushion Scale

  • Icerya purchasi
  • Description of the Pest

    The most distinguishing feature of the cottony cushion scale female is the fluted cottony egg sac that she secretes. About 600 to 800 eggs are laid in the sac. Hatching occurs within a few days in summer, but can take up to 2 months in winter. Newly hatched nymphs are red with dark legs and antennae. First and second instar scales feed on twigs and leaves, usually along the veins. Third instars and adults are found mainly on branches and the trunk, rarely the fruit. First through third instars develop a thick, cottony secretion that disappears after they molt. Adult females settle and begin to form the white, elongated egg sac. Males are rare and females can reproduce without mating. There are three generations a year.


    Cottony cushion scales extract plant sap from leaves, twigs, and branches, thus reducing tree vigor. If infestations are heavy, leaf and fruit drop can occur along with twig dieback. The scale secretes honeydew, which promotes the growth of sooty mold.


    The cottony cushion scale was a major pest of citrus in the 1880s. Efforts at controlling this pest resulted in one of the earliest and most impressive examples of classical biological control (where natural enemies are imported from the pest's native country and introduced in areas to which it has spread). Today, infestations occur in the San Joaquin Valley because of the temporary destruction of the natural enemies by insecticides such as pyrethroids, neonicotinoids, and insect growth regulators. If you encounter cottony cushion scale, look for its natural enemies such as Vedalia beetles and parasitic flies. Insecticide applications are usually not necessary unless the use of broad-spectrum insecticides has significantly reduced vedalia beetle numbers.

    Biological Control

    Two natural enemies effectively control cottony cushion scale. The vedalia beetle, Rodolia cardinalis, was introduced from Australia in the early 1890s. The adult and larva feed on all stages of the scale. Female beetles lay eggs underneath the scale or attached to the egg sac. Young larvae move into the egg mass and feed on eggs. Older stage larvae feed on all scale stages. For more information about the life cycle of the cottony cushion scale and the vedalia beetle, see UC ANR Publication 8051, Stages of Cottony Cushion Scale and its Natural Enemy, the Vedalia Beetle.

    The parasitic fly, Cryptochaetum iceryae, was also introduced from Australia and is a very effective parasite of this scale in coastal areas. The fly deposits its eggs inside the scale body. Upon hatching, parasite larvae feed on the scale body and pupate within the remains of the scale. Control ants if they are tending cottony cushion scale because they can significantly disrupt natural enemy activity.

    Cultural Control

    Cottony cushion scale like moist, cool conditions and do well in citrus trees with dense canopies. Open the tree by pruning the interior of the canopy to remove suckers, dead branches, and crossing limbs, especially in mandarin and grapefruit varieties. Also in young trees, pruning the lower scaffold area can help.

    Organically Acceptable Methods

    Use biological and cultural control on an organically certified crop.

    Monitoring and Treatment Decisions

    Early Spring Monitoring

    Monitor cottony cushion scale by examining 25 trees in the orchard. Spread the branches apart and look into the interior of the tree for adult female cottony cushion scale during March through April. If you find an infestation, also look for vedalia beetle stages (red eggs or larvae of the vedalia beetle) on the white egg sac of the adult scales or vedalia pupal cases attached to leaves. The vedalia beetle is the best method of controlling cottony cushion scale. Vedalia beetles grow very rapidly (they can complete four generations in the time it takes cottony cushion scale to complete one generation) and consume large numbers of cottony cushion scale eggs and nymphs in a very short amount of time. When vedalia beetles arrive in an orchard, they can control a serious cottony cushion scale problem in 4 to 6 weeks.

    Insecticides are often not as effective as vedalia beetle and are disruptive to the natural enemies needed for other pests. If you have vedalia beetle stages present, then it will most likely control cottony cushion scale, as long as you do not disrupt it with broad-spectrum insecticides (pyrethroids, neonicotinoids, and insect growth regulators are toxic to vedalia). If vedalia does not arrive naturally in an infested orchard by the end of March, it is critical to find stages of this beetle from another source and release them in April in order to give them enough time (6 weeks) to increase their numbers to control cottony cushion scale. As few as 20 vedalia beetle adults or larvae can be used to establish a population in an orchard. Vedalia beetles are very sensitive to heat and halt egg production and larval development when San Joaquin Valley daily temperatures exceed 90°F (usually in June). Thus, if the release is made after April, there is often not enough time for the vedalia beetle to exert full control of the scales before hot weather and pesticide applications reduce their effectiveness.

    June Monitoring

    If vedalia beetles do not arrive early enough or establish well enough, or an insecticide application for another pest eliminates the vedalia beetle, a spray using buprofezin (Centaur), an organophosphate (malathion), or a carbamate (carbaryl) may be warranted. Monitor cottony cushion scale by examining 25 trees in the orchard, spreading branches apart and looking into the interior of the tree. Count the number of live adult female scales (make sure they are alive by pulling apart the scale bodies - they should have liquid inside) per 2-foot branch. If the number of live adult female scale exceeds 4 per branch, a pesticide application is warranted.

    In the San Joaquin Valley, cottony cushion scale can become a serious problem in spring after use of insecticides such as neonicotinoids, pyrethroids, and insect growth regulators applied for other pests. This is because these pesticides kill the vedalia beetle during the period when it is most actively feeding and reproducing on cottony cushion scale (March–June). Insect growth regulators prevent vedalia beetle from completing pupation and emerging as adults; pyriproxyfen also prevents the beetle eggs from hatching. Neonicotinoids and pyrethroids are toxic to all stages of vedalia. Insecticide applications for cottony cushion scale should be applied during June through July, after the vedalia beetle has completed its biological control efforts (March–June) and when the population consists primarily of first-instar scales on the leaves of the trees.

    In coastal areas, the parasitic fly can usually be observed parasitizing cottony cushion scales. The emerging parasite leaves an exit hole in the mummified scales. Ants are attracted to the honeydew excreted by this scale but do not interfere greatly with its biological control.

    Common name Amount to use REI‡ PHI‡
    (Example trade name) (type of coverage)** (hours) (days)
    Not all registered pesticides are listed. The following are ranked with the pesticides having the greatest IPM value listed first—the most effective and least harmful to natural enemies, honey bees, and the environment are at the top of the table. When choosing a pesticide, consider information relating to air and water quality, resistance management, and the pesticide's properties and application timing. Always read the label of the product being used.
    See comments NA NA
    RANGE OF ACTIVITY: Pests: narrow (cottony cushion scale); Natural enemies: none
    PERSISTENCE: Pests: long; Natural enemies: none
    COMMENTS: No commercial insectaries are currently rearing vedalia beetles; finding them in one orchard and moving them to another is the best method of establishing vedalia in an orchard. During February through April, simply collect vedalia adults, pupae, or any stages that you can find, and move them into the problem orchard. Place the vedalia on top of a cottony cushion scale infestation in the branches of a tree in several trees in the orchard; they should spread on their own from there. If the conditions are right, one early release of 25 vedalia individuals per 10 acre block should be sufficient, but more is always better. They can be moved into a cottony cushion-infested orchard any time of the year, but they seem to do their best in early spring, especially when the population of cottony cushion scale consists primarily of very large female scale, which is the preferred stage for feeding and egg-laying. When the vedalia beetle consumes all of the cottony cushion scale, it will fly away in search of more food.
    (Centaur WDG) 34.5–46 oz/acre (TC) 12 3
    RANGE OF ACTIVITY: Pests: narrow (scales, whiteflies); Natural enemies: predatory beetles
    PERSISTENCE: Pests: intermediate; Natural enemies: intermediate
    COMMENTS: Insect growth regulator; works best for low-to-moderate scale numbers. For use on all varieties. Toxic to vedalia beetles. Most effective if applied after peak emergence of the first generation of crawlers. Apply after the crawlers have settled down and formed white caps. Slow-acting; this product does not kill the scale until they molt, so a decrease in scale numbers is usually not observed until the next generation.
    . . . PLUS . . .
    (415) 0.5–1% See label See label
    RANGE OF ACTIVITY: Pests: broad (unprotected stages of insects and mites); Natural enemies: most
    PERSISTENCE: Pests: short; Natural enemies: short
    MODE OF ACTION: Contact including smothering effects; also improves insecticide spread and persistence.
    (Assail 70WP) 5.7 oz 12 7
    RANGE OF ACTIVITY: Pests: broad (many insects); Natural enemies: most
    PERSISTENCE: Pests: intermediate; Natural enemies: intermediate
    (Sivanto 200SL) 12–14 fl oz/acre (IC) 12 1
    RANGE OF ACTIVITY: Pests: sucking insects such as psyllids, soft scales and aphids; Natural enemies: parasitic wasps
    PERSISTENCE: Pests: short; Natural enemies: short
    COMMENTS: Safe for bees and can be used during bloom. Do not exceed 28 fl oz Sivanto (0.365 lb a.i. flupyradifurone)/acre per year.
    (Malathion 8) 1 pt/100 gal (TC);
    7.5 pt/acre maximum
    72 (3 days) 7
    RANGE OF ACTIVITY: Pests: broad (many insects); Natural enemies: most
    PERSISTENCE: Pests: intermediate; Natural enemies: intermediate
    COMMENTS: For use on all varieties. Do not apply during bloom period.
    (Sevin XLR Plus) 3–5 qt/acre (TC) See label 5
    RANGE OF ACTIVITY: Pests: broad (many insects); Natural enemies: most
    PERSISTENCE: Pests: long; Natural enemies: long
    RESISTANCE: Some California red scale and some Euseius tularensis populations in the San Joaquin Valley.
    COMMENTS: For use on all varieties. Do not apply during bloom. May increase citrus red mite numbers.
    ** TC - Thorough coverage uses 750 to 2,000 gal water (or more)/acre, depending on tree size.
    IC – Intermediate coverage uses 250 to 600 gal water/acre.
    Restricted entry interval (REI) is the number of hours (unless otherwise noted) from treatment until the treated area can be safely entered without protective clothing. Preharvest interval (PHI) is the number of days from treatment to harvest. In some cases the REI exceeds the PHI. The longer of two intervals is the minimum time that must elapse before harvest.
    # Acceptable for use on organically grown produce.
    * Permit required from county agricultural commissioner for purchase or use.
    1 Rotate chemicals with a different mode-of-action group number, and do not use products with the same mode-of-action group number more than twice per season to help prevent the development of resistance. For example, the organophosphates have a group number of 1B; chemicals with a 1B group number should be alternated with chemicals that have a group number other than 1B. Mode-of-action group numbers (un = unknown or uncertain mode of action) are assigned by IRAC (Insecticide Resistance Action Committee).
    NA Not applicable.
    Text Updated: 02/17
    Treatment Table Updated: 02/17