Ficus is the genus name for a variety of plants that grow naturally in many tropical and subtropical climates. Although ficus trees make attractive houseplants, destructive pests may infest them. Cuban laurel thrips, sometimes called Cuban beetles, are common pests that feed on ficus trees, fig plants and various other shrubs and herbs. Identifying these destructive pests is the first step in eradicating them from your ficus tree.
Ficus plants include weeping fig trees, rubber plants and Indian laurels. Weeping figs provide the largest range of sizes and varieties than any other type of ficus on the market. Ficus trees require regular, deep watering and bright sunlight for an average of eight hours each day.
The scientific name for Cuban beetles is Gynaikothrips ficorum. The pests complete their entire life cycle within two to four weeks. The adults measure between 2.6 mm to 3.6 mm in length. When disturbed, these winged beetles fly rapidly, but tend to remain near the leaves of the host plant. These small bugs can bite the skin that touches them.
Cuban beetles tend to appear wherever ficus plants naturally grow, including Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Florida and Hawaii. The larvae appear as tiny, translucent insects shaped like ovals. They may have a slight yellow color. Adult Cuban beetles are dark in color. Their black and yellowish-brown bodies contrast with the green ficus leaves, making them easier to spot than the small larvae. Although they may feed on other plants, ficus plants are their main host.
Cuban beetles feed on the tender, young leaves and leaf buds. Their feeding habits cause sunken reddish-purple spots along the center rib of the new leaves. As feeding continues, the leaves tend to curl tightly and grow tough. Eventually the damaged leaves turn yellow or brown and drop from the trees. The beetles can damage the ornamental value of the trees, but won’t kill the plants.
Pruning the infested portions of ficus plants is an effective method of removing the beetles. Since the pests feed only on the young, new leaves, pruning off new growth can eradicate the insects. The resulting lack of food usually causes the insects to starve, leaving a pest-free environment for new leaves that form.