Armored scale insects are known as one of the more frustrating pests and often don’t look like insects at all. These tiny sap-suckers create protective, waterproof coverings to fend off the elements and predators. The insects themselves are quite small and non-descript in appearance. The females hide in this covering for most of their lives and eventually become immobile. They lose any obvious appendages and permanently affix themselves onto the plant while the gnat-like males, on the other hand, can freely move around. They are generally poor fliers and do not feed as adults. Armored scale can be differentiated from soft scale by lifting their coverings. Soft scale insects’ “covering” is attached to their body while armored scale coverings can be lifted up presenting a teeny tiny insect underneath.
Since this type of scale insect does not produce honeydew, tell-tale signs of soft scale such as sooty mold and ants are not seen. They can weaken the plant much like other Hemipteran pests causing leaves and other plant parts to yellow, wilt, or show other signs of stress.
Armored scale insects thrive in warmer temperatures but can be active year round.
They are widely distributed throughout the world, excluding Antarctica.
Like many pests, scale insects thrive in warm conditions which they will seek out.
Since armored scale insects have a tough outer shell, they can be difficult to manage. Infected portions of plants should be removed and disposed of. You can also pull any scale insects off the plant using tweezers but generally the “dabbing” technique used with soft scale will not work with these buggers. There are also many commercially available biological controls such as parasitoids and predators to keep populations in control. Many species are resistant to pesticides but many have seen positive results using horticultural oils. These oils basically suffocate the insect. As always, there are some effective pesticides currently on the market but should be used as a last resort. Try to start with a natural pesticide derived from neem oil before moving onto more potent chemicals.
These weird insects have an even weirder life cycle. Mobile nymphs hatch from the eggs and wander around looking for new places to feed. These are known as “crawlers”. Once they find a good place to feed, they attach themselves—permanently if they are female. Many are parthenogenetic so do not need to mate in order to lay fertile eggs. Some don’t even lay eggs, but rather are viviparous—giving birth to live young from eggs held in their bodies.