Cottony fluff on trees and shrubs – Felt Scales

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Oak eriococcid scales on a willow oak twig

Oak eriococcid scales on a willow oak twig. Photo: AG Dale

Eriococcidae is a family of scale insects commonly called ‘felt scales’. This is a different family than the common soft scales (Coccidae) that includes species like wax scale, lecanium scale, terrapin scale, and cottony maple leaf scale. Felt scales look a lot like mealybugs. The one that is most abundant now is the oak eriococcid scale. If you look at many urban willow oaks this time of year you will see small cottony fluffs, like Q-tips,  on the bark, twigs, and branches. In some cases they become extremely abundant.

This is not a well-studied group of scales. Not much is known about their biology or management.

underside of an oak eriococcid scale

This is the underside of an oak eriococcid scale. Notice the orange eggs building up toward the back of her body. Photo: AG Dale

The oak eriococcids have one generation per year. The cottony sack you see now if the ovisac (egg sack). If you dig around in the cottony material you will see tiny yellowish eggs. Pretty soon crawlers will emerge from the cottony mass to find a spot to settle and feed. They also produce honeydew so these are some of the scales responsible for the tiny drops on your windshield if you park under willow oaks or other infested species. Heavily infested trees like some on campus make the sidewalk black with sooty mold.

Other felt scales of importance are the azalea bark scale, European elm scale, and the new crape myrtle bark scale. Control of felt scales has also not been studied well. However, like their aphid and mealybug relatives, imidacloprid and other neonicotinoids should provide some control. If you watch for the crawlers (soon!) you could make a dent with horticultural oil. The oak eriococcid sscales are one of the earliest scales to produce eggs in Raleigh. They are harbingers of all the other scale crawlers to come.