Rom Duran cut down a small branch from an infected fiddlewood tree last week to show the extent of the infestation. It was raining and the water running down the road had a white slick covering it.

Kaneohe bears
brunt of new
whitefly attack

A 2nd species devours
trees and plants and
slimes houses and cars

By Rosemarie Bernardo

Some Kaneohe residents are frustrated by an infestation of giant whiteflies that are covering their plants and homes.

"They're all over our property. They're everywhere," said Rom Duran, who lives along Haamaile Street at the Kaneohe Woods subdivision.

"They're laying eggs on our garage door, our stairs, our front door."

The pests are new to the island, according to the state Department of Agriculture's Plant Pest Control Branch. They were first observed in May on red hibiscus plants at Honolulu Airport, Mapunapuna and in Salt Lake by an expert with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Surveys over the summer showed the pest had spread to red hibiscus plants at Hickam Air Force base, Kalihi, the Tripler Army Medical Center area and Alewa Heights.

Despite that, Ken Teramoto, supervisor of the biocontrol section of the Plant Pest Control Branch, said the infestation is not widespread and has not affected the neighbor islands.

"It's not a significant problem," Teramoto said. "It only attacks a limited number of plants at this moment."

The giant whitefly, Aleurodicus dugesii, is related to the spiraling whitefly, Aleurodicus dispersus, which arrived in Hawaii in 1978. The two are similar in size but are distinguished by their wings. The giant whitefly has highly patterned wings that are positioned in a tent-like fashion over its body. The spiraling whitefly has only a few light markings on its wings, which are held in a flattened position.

The whitefly is native to Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala. It was first spotted in California in 1992. Four years later, it was seen in Florida. According to a pest advisory issued by the state in July, the giant whitefly has also been spotted in Arizona, Louisiana and Texas.

Duran and his wife, Barbara, said they first noticed the giant whiteflies in their fiddlewood trees during the latter part of August. The infestation grew worse, spreading to other plants on their property such as hibiscus and ti leaf.

According to the advisory, the giant whitefly lays its eggs in a spiral pattern on the underside of leaves. The eggs hatch into nymphs that feed on plants by sucking the sap from leaves.

"You can barely see the leaves' surface. Just these crawly things," said Barbara Duran.

The giant whiteflies also produce flocculence, a long, white thread-like material similar to angel hair. Duran said the sticky material is blown by the wind onto cars, outdoor plants and screen doors.

About half of the Durans' 60-foot fiddlewood tree is covered with flocculence, Rom Duran said.

"It looks like it's snowing," said Barbara Duran.

"All of these pieces are just matted on our screens. It sticks to the front door, garage door," Rom said.

"Trying to keep things clean, it's impossible."

When the plant is digested, the giant whitefly excretes a sticky substance called honeydew that drips down leaves and turns into a black sooty mold, Teramoto said.

Every morning for the past five months, Kaneohe resident Don Short said he has had to remove the sticky substance from his Oldsmobile van with a plastic scrubber.

"It's a total pain," said Short.

Short said he has seen giant whiteflies on his car while driving and suspects they may be spreading to other areas.

In November, a state entomologist observed the giant whiteflies at the Duran's home and said a natural parasite would control the infestation. To avoid killing natural parasites such as wasps and ladybird beetles, Rom Duran said the entomologist recommended the couple spray their plants with soapy water.

"He said just wait nine months and they'll be gone. I'm not comfortable with that," Duran said.

The Durans said they are worried about the effect giant whiteflies have on their trees and plants, and especially tropical plants at the 400-acre Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden, which abuts their property.

Officials at the botanical garden could not be reached for comment.

Giant whiteflies are said to prefer hibiscus in Hawaii. However, other plants the insects have attacked in California and Florida include apricot, avocado, banana, citrus and plum.

Teramoto suspects the giant whitefly migrated to Hawaii on a traveler or through the plant industry.

He recommended residents use an insecticidal soap to get them off their plants. He also said that some people have used dishwashing liquid, "however you have to be careful not to exceed the dosage of two teaspoons per gallon of water if you do not wish to burn your plants."

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