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Mealybugs or (woolly aphid) are certainly the worst and more common insect that attack cactus and succulents.



Mealybugs are soft-bodied insects that are about 1/8-inch in length. They have a white powdery substance over their bodies and white, waxy filaments projecting from the rear of their bodies. They are unarmored but have a rubbery outer coating that cannot be detached. They may be flat, oval, or globular, and some secrete wax.

The peg-like teeth (about 32; range 28-36) are undifferentiated and, because they are absent in the front of the jaws, are presumed to be premolars and molars. On the front feet, the middle two (of four) claws are especially long, heavy, and sharp, while on the hind foot there are five claws, of which the three middle ones are long and stout, all being highly specialized for digging. There is no seasonal variation or sexual dimorphism. Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 693-763 mm; tail 254-373 mm; hind foot 65-90 mm; ear 32-40 mm; weight 3.2-4.5 kilograms.

Mealybugs produce honeydew, which is a liquid rich in sugar. Ants like to feed on honeydew and some ants will therefore protect the mealybugs by chasing away predators and parasitoids. These ants also carry mealybugs around and thus contribute to their distribution.

Life Cycle:The life cycle of most species is similar with females laying 300 to 600 eggs in compact waxy sacs attached to axils of stems or leaves. After egg laying, females die and the eggs hatch in 7 to 10 days into tiny yellowish crawlers (nymphs). The long-tailed mealybug is slightly different in that females give birth to living young.



The complete life cycle can take six weeks to two months depending on the species and the environmental conditions. Breeding and development, however, is year-round in the greenhouse.

Symptoms: No parts are of the plant are immune to their attack. The infested plant appears covered with small insects, distinguished by a grey/white cotton-wool type spot or covering, and so difficult to see among the spines of cacti, mostly hidden at the base of the plant at soil level, or accumulate to feed on the tender tissues at or near the growing point. Nests appear like a tuft of small waxy filaments (fluff like). Plant surface are covered with sticky colourless drops, better known as honeydew.

Frequently a sooty Mould (black mould) forms on honeydew secretion on the plant surfaces. Infested plants will stop growing, take on a sickly appearance with distorted stem and grow point deformation and start to shrivel. A crushed mealy bug leaves a characteristic red stain. Leaves are reduced in size, discoloured, wilted and easily drop prematurely.

Regular visit of ants. Ants breed and protect mealy bugs for their honeydew secretions and may help to spread them through the collection, so to discourage any invading ants even though they are not harmful to the plants. Weakened plants often succumb to fungi and rot. A particular species of mealy bug attacks the roots of cacti. This form will be seen as white patches on the roots when repotting a plant. If a plant is unaccountably sick and not growing, take it out of its pot and examine the roots. Sometimes also hidden at the outer side of the pots, at the underside of the border.



Damage: Mealybugs suck juices from flower branches, young fruits and mature fruits. If many mealybugs feed close together this will cause the fruits to develop slow and they will remain small. On big fruits the damage is not so serious as the fruit meat is not damaged. However, presence of mealybugs on fruits reduces the marketing value because consumers consider it a lower quality.

The honey dew that is released by mealybugs will cover leaves and fruits. Fungi (sooty mold) that develop on this honeydew make it become black in color. On leaves this will reduce photosynthesis, which may be reduce growth of the tree if a lot of sooty mold is present. If sooty molds develop on fruits, this will reduce their economic value.While mealybugs can be tolerated to some extent on fruits for the local market, they are a major pest of export fruits.Mealybugs attack a variety of other crops (e.g. soybean).

Methods of Control: Manual control When infestation is not severe it is possible to patiently picking mealy bugs off with tweezers. If there are not that many it is possible picking them off or spraying them off with a jet of warm water otherwise chemical control is unavoidable. Prune or cut the parts where infestation is severe. Pruning is a job which should be executed at sufficient distance from the collection if possible. Watch the wind direction, eggs and first generation nymphs can cover great distances when catched by a breeze!

Chemical control: Before applying insecticides/pesticides, manual removal of the fluffy nests and most insects is advisable. It greatly increases the chance on complete elimination of the bugs.

Mealybugs damage

Mealybugs Damage

Fumigant smoke: Some fumigant smoke are effective against mealy bugs, and have the advantage of being a dry treatment, but require repeated use to be really effective. Fumigation are particularly useful the Spring and Autumn when it is too cold to spray or water the plants with systemic insecticide.

Moth ball: As a preventative measure, moth balls (paradichlorobenzene) added to the potting mix seem to discourage infestation by root mealy bug, and probably discourages other insects. However, the chemicals in the moth balls can cause damage to plastic plant pots and are best used with clay pots.

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