Figure 1. Aschersonia aleyrodis, entomopathogenic fungi feeding on immature whiteflies on a satsuma tree. Photo Credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS Jackson County.

Proper plant disease and insect identification is essential, not just in agriculture production, but in the garden and landscape setting too! The presence of “friendly fungi” on a citrus tree is a prime example of the phrase, “there is more here than meets the eye”. Friendly fungi is an entomopathogenic fungi that attacks citrus whitefly and cloudywinged whitefly nymphs. At first glance though, it can be a scary sight and may look like your citrus tree is being plagued with a new citrus disease or a new species of scale, when in fact, the whitefly nymphs are being controlled by a beneficial and naturally occurring biological control agent!

Figure 2. Adult citrus whitefly feeding on the underside of leaf. Photo Credit: Lyle Buss, UF/IFAS Entomology.

The citrus whitefly (Dialeurodes citri) and the cloudywinged whitefly (Singhiella citrifolii) are two insect pest species of whiteflies that occasionally cause injury to citrus. The adults are small, white and resemble tiny moths (Figure 2). Adults lay eggs on the underside of leaves and eggs hatch into nymphs (Figure 3). The nymphs cause injury to the plant by feeding and consuming large quantities of sap. As a result of the large amount of sap consumed, nymphs excrete honeydew which causes growth of sooty mold fungi. Severe sooty mold infestations give plants an unhealthy appearance and can reduce plant photosynthesis.

Figure 3. Citrus whitefly nymph feeding on the underside of leaf. Photo credit: Lyle Buss, UF/IFAS Entomology.

Citrus whiteflies have historically been controlled by a suite of predators including two strains of the entomopathogenic fungi, Aschersonia aleyrodis, the red strain and Aschersonia goldiana, the yellow strain. The red strain infects the citrus whitefly and the yellow strain infects the cloudywinged whitefly. These fungi are commonly referred to as “friendly fungi”. Both strains are present in North Florida and are normally observed now, through mid-September, following the rainy season.

Figure 4. Friendly fungus attacking whitefly nymphs that are feeding on the underside of a satsuma leaf. The black growth is sooty mold, caused by the whitefly nymphs. While this leaf looks bad, the friendly fungus is helping to reduce the whitefly population. Photo Credit: Danielle Williams, UF/IFAS Gadsden County.

The friendly fungi can be clearly seen from a distance with their bright red and/or yellow spots. While it may be a scary sight to see, the entomopathogenic fungi does not harm the tree and is beneficial in helping control whitefly populations! For more information, please contact your local Extension Office.

Danielle S. Williams
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