Silverleaf Whiteflies 

Silverleaf Whiteflies are tiny.
Photo: UF Schall

Palm Beach County has been struggling with serious whitefly problems for the past several years.  Rugose spiraling whitefly has declined significantly in the landscape, although flare-up areas are still possible.  This has occurred primarily due to the tiny parasitoid wasp, Encarsia noyesi and systematic treatment by our county pest control professionals.  Ficus whitefly remains a major problem, and ongoing research is underway at the University of Florida’s Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead.  The research is designed to determine how to better manage the ficus whitefly, and the seemingly related decline of Ficus benjamina hedges in southern Florida.

Now, a major new problem has surfaced since May 2016.  It is the establishment of silverleaf whitefly (also called Bemisia) types in our landscapes that are resistant to many of the commonly used insecticides. 

Silverleaf whiteflies are known scientifically as Bemisia tabaci.  However, it is clear that within this species there are dramatically different genetics at play.  The whiteflies may look identical, but are genetically very different. 

These genetic differences are identified as “biotypes” and are labeled alphabetically.  That is, A, B, C, etc.  The B-Biotype was first found in Florida in 1995, and quickly became a serious problem.  Insecticide and other management techniques were developed that helped keep it under control.  However, in the Mediterranean region of the world a genetically different Q-Biotype evolved, probably due to the intensive vegetable production systems used in Europe.  And unfortunately, the Q-Biotype is very resistant to many of the insecticides used successfully to control the B-Biotype.  For the first time, Q-Biotype silverleaf whiteflies have become broadly established throughout Palm Beach County.  Additionally, it is suspected that a possibly newly insecticide resistant B-Biotype is established down through the Florida Keys.

Silverleaf Whitefly Adult
Silverleaf Whitefly adult
Photo: UF Osborne

This poses as serious problem for southern Florida landscapes.  The even greater risk is that these whiteflies transmit more than 100 plant viruses.  This is a major concern for Palm Beach County and southern Florida’s massive vegetable industry.  It is estimated that the Q-Biotype has been responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in lost food production worldwide, and starvation in less developed countries.  Managing these whiteflies is much more complex than the earlier ones we have dealt with. This webpage was developed to provide accurate, unbiased and research-based information to help residents, businesses and governments sort through the misinformation that can develop around major pest issues. The Palm Beach Whitefly Task Force was established to address these local needs. 

This group is organized by University of Florida Extension and Research faculty in collaboration with local media, industry members, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the United States Department of Agriculture (APHIS–PPQ), and local governments. Check this page periodically for updates.


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