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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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Monday - April 21, 2008

From: Georgetown, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pests, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Insect infestation, identification and treatment
Answered by: Barbara Medford and Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

help! I have an infestation of small flies in my flower/vegetable beds. They seem to be eating the leaves of just about everything. I've tried to find out exactly what they are, but haven't had any luck. They're not white flies, they look like common house flies, only much smaller. I can't see anything else that might be munching on the plants. They especially like my okra, eggplant and celosia leaves. I've tried spraying with insecticidal soap and dusting with sevin...no luck getting rid of them. Please help before they eat everything!

ANSWER:

Since Mr. Smarty Plants is pretty much a gardener, and not an entomologist, he may be the wrong person to ask this question. We attacked the problem by trying to discover what insect pests can cause problems to all three of the plants you mentioned: eggplants, okra and celosia. Eggplant originated in southern and eastern Asia, okra in the Ethiopian highlands, and celosia in Africa and India; so, since the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center specializes in plants native to North America, we might use that as an excuse to beg off this question, but we are made of sturdier stuff. The three plants you listed have in common a possibility of being invaded by thrips, mites and aphids. We have found websites of pictures of the little monsters and of descriptions of their life cycles and possible causes of their demise. Follow the links and see if you can figure out which you have visiting your garden. Unfortunately, we are of the opinion that these insects, whatever they are, are a symptom and not a cause. The flies are not actually eating your plants, but rather they are either attracted to what IS eating them or to some by-product of the predation, such as honeydew. We would strongly recommend that you contact your county extension agent (see below) to find out what is going on. You may have a serious problem that is just getting started.

Images of thrips. Discussion of thrips, from the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program.

Images of mites. Discussion of mites, from the Tree of Life Acari project.

Images of aphids. Discussion of aphids, also from the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program.

And, just in case....

Images of whiteflies. Discussion of whiteflies, again from the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program.

For more information, contact the Williamson County Extension Service. You are probably not the only one being annoyed by these insects, and the Extension Service should have some publications or information on what to do next.

 

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