Planococcus ficusMediterranean vine mealybug(Also: grapevine mealybug; subterranean vine mealy bug; vine mealybug)

Geographic Range

The vine mealybug, Planococcus ficus, is predominantly found in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. This species is commonly found throughout South Africa, the Mediterranean and Mexico. They have also been found in parts of Asia, Europe, California, Pakistan, and Israel. It is unclear which populations are native and which have been introduced to these regions. Transportation of contaminated nursery plant material and field equipment has allowed the vine mealybug species to rapidly spread out all over different regions of the world. They are difficult to see, and since they came into California in 1994 they have colonized 17 different counties, including the San Joaquin Valley, foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Central Coast, and North Coast vineyards. (Daugherty, 2013)


Vine mealybugs live in colonies on different types of plants. They mostly live on subtropical and tropical plants for their fruit, but they are sometimes found in common weedy plants. They migrate up and down parts of the plant during different seasons of the year. This depends on the absence or presence of natural enemies, temperature and availability of food. They spend the winter months in colonies on the lower parts of the plant, under the bark or underground in the roots, living down to 30 cm underneath the ground. During the spring and summer months, they move upward on the plant. However, the largest portions of vine mealybugs live inside the trunk of the plant year round. (Vieux and Malan, 2013)

Physical Description

The male and female vine mealybugs are different in appearance and in size. The females are much larger than the males, being approximately 4 mm in length, 2 mm wide and 1.5 mm thick. Females usually weigh 100 to 200 times more than the males. Females are segmented with a pink to slate-grey-colored appearance, and their body is covered in a fine white powdery wax layer. They have waxy hair-like extensions and a dark thin line of denuded wax running down the back of their body. They have no wings.

The male P. ficus is very tiny and delicate. It is less than 1 mm long with a pair of inconspicuous, transparent wings. Males appear brownish in color, with a beaded antenna, and a thorax that is wider than their abdomen. They have two long filaments, called anal seta, that are used for flight stabilization. One very unique characteristic of the males is the fact that they do not have any functioning mouthparts, so they have to use their anal seta filaments to feed. (Vieux and Malan, 2013)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • female more colorful
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range length
    0.5 to 4 mm
    0.02 to 0.16 in
  • Average wingspan
    1.2 mm
    0.05 in


Females go through incomplete metamorphosis, passing through five growth stages. The stages include an egg stage, three nymphal instar (crawlers) stages, and an adult stage which allows for reproduction.

Males go through complete metamorphosis. They go through seven different growth stages, with the third stage showing male characteristics. Just like the females, the males go through an egg and three nymphal instar stages, but then they undergo pre-pupae, pupae and an adult stage, which allows the male to fly short distances, and mate with other adult females. (Vieux and Malan, 2013)


Planococcus ficus can mate all year long, but most of its mating occurs during the warmer months of spring and summer. Mating is much less frequent during the winter. When a female is fully developed and ready to mate, she releases a pheromone that will attract males to mate with her. The females can mate up to eight times in a single day. Many males die after mating, but the ones who survive will mate again the following day. Males will mate as much as possible during their lifetime. (Vieux and Malan, 2013; Waterworth, et al., 2011)

The number of matings affects the amount of egg production. Planococcus ficus reproduces quickly and often, allowing vine mealybug colonies to go through multiple generations of offspring in a single year. A single female can produce any where from 50 to 800 viable offspring depending on the food supply and environmental conditions at the time. The eggs are placed in cotton-like ovisacs for development, which can be stored anywhere on the host plant or underground. (Vieux and Malan, 2013; Waterworth, et al., 2011)

  • Breeding interval
    Vine mealybugs can breed multiple times in their lives.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding takes place year round, but mainly in the spring and summer.
  • Range eggs per season
    50 to 800
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to independence
    0 minutes
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    31.6 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    31.6 days

When P. ficus females lay their eggs, they lay the eggs in ovisacs for development. They also provide provisioning in the eggs. After the eggs are laid, they leave the offspring to survive on their own. There is no further parental care for the eggs or the young. (Vieux and Malan, 2013)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female


It takes about 31.6 days for both the males and the females to reach full maturity, and they live on average about 68 days total depending on environmental conditions, food supply and predators. (Mustu and Kilincer, 2006)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    68 days
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    68 days


Vine mealybugs live in colonies on plants, where development, reproduction, and feeding all takes place. They work together for food and protection. Females lack wings and are unable to fly, while males may make short flights. (Daugherty, 2013)

Home Range

Females stay on the same plant for the majority of their lives, only moving to breed, or for survival. Males will sometimes take short flights to other plants and colonies to feed and mate. (Daugherty, 2013)

Communication and Perception

There is little known about the communication and perception of Planococcus ficus. Females communicate with potential male mates by releasing pheromones. (Vieux and Malan, 2013; Waterworth, et al., 2011)

Food Habits

Planococcus ficus are herbivores. They feed on several agricultural and weedy plant species. Grapevines are, however, the preferred host of the vine mealybug. They also feed on apples, avocado, banana, date palm, fig, mango and citrus as well. They feed on the phloem sap of the plants they live on, which is why these tropical and subtropical fruits are prime targets for P. ficus colonies. (Daugherty, 2013; Malakar-Kuenen and Daane, 2014)

  • Primary Diet
  • herbivore
    • eats sap or other plant foods
  • Plant Foods
  • roots and tubers
  • fruit
  • sap or other plant fluids


Predators of Planococcus ficus include many insect species, particularly beetles, such as Cryptolaemus montrouzieri and Nephus reunioni. Lady beetles (Coccinellidae) are notable predators of mealybugs, and be even used as a natural biocontrol method of mealybug infestations. Parasitoids and other parasites are also responsible for many deaths of vine mealybugs. Some P. ficus colonies form mutualistic relationships with ants, where the ants feed on the honeydew produced by the mealybugs, and in return protect the mealybugs from predators and parasitoids. (Rzavea, 1985; Vieux and Malan, 2013)

Ecosystem Roles

Vine mealybugs invade weedy plants, fig trees, grapevines, and other fruit plants. They use them as a place to feed, reproduce and live their lives. Extremely large colonies will sometimes kill the plant by over feeding, but most of the time it’s just the fruit of the plant that is destroyed by the vine mealybugs.

Many colonies of Planococcus ficus form mutualistic relationships with neighboring ant colonies. The ants feed on the sugar rich honeydew that P. ficus produces. In exchange, the ants will dig tunnels and help the mealybugs move underground for the winter months, or if climate conditions are more favorable underground. The ants will also protect the mealybugs from parasites and predators, such as lady beetles.

There are many parasitoids that use the bodies of vine mealybugs to reproduce in. Leptomastidea abnormis is one such parasitoid. These parasitoids enter the mealybug by a natural opening, such as the mouth, anus or spiracles. Once inside, the parasitoid will release bacteria from its stomach. The bacterium grows rapidly and produces toxins that kill the host within 48 hours. Then, the parasitoid can reproduce and feed inside the dead host. Entomopathogenic nematodes (EPNs) are also responsible for the mortality of many vine mealybugs. The nematodes that belong to families Heterorhabditidae and Steunernematidae are deadly insect pathogens that infect mealybugs and kill them. These nematodes are being considered as a pest control mechanism in vineyards. (Daugherty, 2013; Malakar-Kuenen and Daane, 2014; Rzavea, 1985)

Species Used as Host
  • grapes, Vitis spp.
Mutualist Species
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • wasp, Leptomastidea abnormis
  • nematode, Steinernema glaseri
  • nematodes, Heterorhabditidae
  • nematodes, Steunernematidae

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known positive effects of Planococcus ficus on humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Vine mealybugs are pests that invade various fruit crops and ornamental plants wherever they are found in the world, and are of serious economic importance. Planococcus ficus destroys the crop it invades, especially grapevines. A sooty mold grows on their waxy secretions, egg-sacs and honeydew productions making the fruit inedible and unmarketable. The vine mealybug colonies produce large quantities of honeydew and many eggs, making it easier and more common for mold to grow on the plant that they are living on. Vine mealybugs are also a vector of grapevine leaf roll-associated virus 3, which reduces the amount of photosynthesis that takes place in the plant. This destroys the grapes, one again making them inedible and unmarketable. (Vieux and Malan, 2013)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Planococcus ficus has no special conservation status.

Other Comments

The common name ‘mealybug’ is derived from the white mealy or powdery wax that these species secrete to cover their bodies.

The vine mealybug was first discovered in South Africa in 1914.

It is very common for old vine mealybugs to lose their legs, and die shortly afterwards. (Vieux and Malan, 2013)


Dylan Berning (author), Grand View University, Graham Dawson (author), Grand View University, Mike Foggia (author), Grand View University, Felicitas Avendano (editor), Grand View University, Dan Chibnall (editor), Grand View University, Angela Miner (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

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living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


remains in the same area


offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


Daane, K., J. Walker, M. Botton, M. Fallahzadeh, J. Miano, R. Almedia, V. Walton. 2012. "Biology and Management of Mealybugs in Vineyards" (On-line pdf). Accessed March 13, 2014 at

Daugherty, M. 2013. "Vine Mealybug: Planococcus ficus" (On-line). UC Riverside Center for Invasive Species Research. Accessed March 13, 2014 at

Malakar-Kuenen, R., K. Daane. 2014. "Vine Mealybug, Planococcus ficus Signoret" (On-line). SpringerReference. Accessed March 13, 2014 at

Mustu, M., N. Kilincer. 2006. "Life table and some feeding features of Nephus kreissli fed on Planococcus ficus" (On-line). ResearchGate. Accessed March 13, 2014 at

Rzavea, L. 1985. "Parasites and predators of the grape mealybug (Planococcus ficus Signoret) and introduction of new natural enemies into the eastern Transcaucasus." (On-line). CAB Direct. Accessed March 15, 2014 at;jsessionid=DC2D4932AA6961E12C13FC4D6BF317DD.

Vieux, P., A. Malan. 2013. "An Overview of the Vine Mealybug (Planococcus ficus) in South African Vineyards and the use of Entomopathogenic Nematodes as potential Biocontrol Agent" (On-line pdf). South African Society for Enology and Viticulture. Accessed March 12, 2014 at

Waterworth, R., I. Wright, J. Millar. 2011. Reproductive Biology of Three Cosmopolitan Mealybug (Hemiptera: Pseudococcidae) Species, Pseudococcus longispinus, Pseudococcus viburni, and Planococcus ficus. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 104/2: 249-260. Accessed March 13, 2014 at