A website to help safeguard the United States borders against alien scale insect pests

August 6, 2014
A screen snapshot of the home page of the website Credit: ScaleNet

Scales are small insects that feed by sucking plant juices. They can attack nearly any plant and cause serious damage to many agricultural and ornamental plants. While native scales have natural enemies that generally keep their populations in check, invasive species often do not, and for this reason many commercially important scale pests in the United States are species that were accidentally introduced.

In order to facilitate the identification of alien species at U.S. ports-of-entry, scientists of the United States Department of Agriculture and California Department of Food and Agriculture joined efforts and built an online tool for the identification of 194 potentially invasive species from all over the world.

The new website is a comprehensive resource to assist federal and state identifiers to make authoritative identifications of intercepted scale insects. This resource includes, for each species, information on diagnostic characters, distribution, hosts, and important references with line drawings, photos of slide-mounted specimens and of specimens in the field. It also has identification keys, which were built in Lucid, a powerful expert system specifically designed for making identifications of organisms. Information on each species is maintained through links to ScaleNet, a rich relational database on scales that is updated regularly. Details about this tool have been published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

A number of other online tools, including Mobile apps, have been developed by various groups of scientists in cooperation with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Identification Technology Program (ITP), to help identify . These tools are available at no cost via the ID Tools website.

'Protecting the borders of large countries such as the United States from invasive scales often requires a very broad knowledge of the taxonomy a group, and detailed knowledge of the literature and collections from the last 250+years ', said Dr. Douglass Miller, the senior author of the paper and a retired scale insect systematist. 'Currently only a few specialists in the world can identify scale insects based on morphology, and of these, many are retired or approaching retirement. We hope that our tool will facilitate scale insect pest identifications at the borders and will inspire taxonomists to build similar tools for their groups'

Explore further: Biocontrol research on Brazilian peppertree in Florida discovers new cryptic species

More information: Miller DR, Rung A, Parikh G (2014) Scale Insects, edition 2, a tool for the identification of potential pest scales at U.S.A. ports-of-entry (Hemiptera, Sternorrhyncha, Coccoidea). ZooKeys 431: 61-78. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.431.7474

Related Stories

Insect community driven by plant hormones

May 13, 2014

Plants are not solitary, defenceless organisms but rather the centre of a vibrant community consisting of tens or even hundreds of insect species. Plants possess a wide range of defence mechanisms that are activated in response ...

A master of disguise: A new stick insect species from China

June 2, 2014

Many representatives of the fauna possess unique masking abilities but stick insects are among the masters of disguise within the animal world. During a field trip in Guangxi, China Mr. Ho Wai-chun George from the Hong Kong ...

New wasp species may be friends of agriculture

June 20, 2014

University of Adelaide researchers have discovered large numbers of new species of tiny Australian parasitic wasps - some of which may have potential as new biological control agents of insect pests in agriculture.

Recommended for you

Most EU nations seek to bar GM crops

October 4, 2015

Nineteen of the 28 EU member states have applied to keep genetically modified crops out of all or part of their territory, the bloc's executive arm said Sunday, the deadline for opting out of new European legislation on GM ...

Ancestral background can be determined by fingerprints

September 28, 2015

A proof-of-concept study finds that it is possible to identify an individual's ancestral background based on his or her fingerprint characteristics – a discovery with significant applications for law enforcement and anthropological ...

Trade in invasive plants is blossoming

October 3, 2015

Every day, hundreds of different plant species—many of them listed as invasive—are traded online worldwide on auction platforms. This exacerbates the problem of uncontrollable biological invasions.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.