Black Olive Scale



Olive Agencies Information Services


(Saissetia oleae)


Occasionally a sap sucking insect known as Brown or Black Olive Scale will be  seen on olive trees. It is rarely a problem if the trees are in good health. We  usually only spray our mature trees for scale every two to three years and only  then if they need it. However, certain areas of Australia are more prone to the  scale than where we are.

The adult females are very easy to recognise on the olive tree stems. They are dome shaped, dark brown to black in colour, and about the size of a match  head.

The tiny eggs laid under the female look like piles of very fine sand. Mainly  during the summer, these eggs hatch into tiny, six-legged, cream coloured 'crawlers'. The crawlers move up the stems and usually settle along the veins of  young leaves. At this stage they don't have the impervious shell of the adult and can usually be killed with one or two applications of white oil about two  weeks apart. White oil should be used only as directed on the label by the manufacturers (and by your agricultural department) and never during the hot part of the day. It puts an oil film over the young 'crawler' and suffocates it. If applied in the hot part of the day it also stops the leaves from breathing  properly and can be detrimental to the tree. The white oil application will also  tend to rid the tree of 'sooty mould' as discussed soon.

If the crawlers are allowed to live, they will moult after about one month and then migrate to the young stems and twigs of the tree. Here they will mature and lay more eggs and their protective brown shells will be impervious to white oil. Squash the scale between your fingers to see if it is alive. If it is  alive, then your fingers will be wet from the juices squeezed out. If it is dead  then your fingers will be dry and dusty.

Bad infestations of live mature scale may need spraying with an insecticide  such as Supracide or Lebaycid. (Important: See note on page 2 regarding  "Treatment") In Greece, Supracide is the main spray used for most olive problems. Once again, check with your local agricultural chemical supplier and the product label, for directions.

Probably the damage done by the scale itself to the tough olive tree is  negligible compared with what happens next.

As the scale feeds, the 'manure' they excrete is a sweet, sticky, 'honeydew'.  This excreted sticky liquid can finally cover the leaves of the entire tree. A  fungus known as sooty mould feeds on this food and multiplies until the entire tree may be covered with the black sooty mould. This is where the real problem lies.

The leaves are coated with the black deposit so the sun's light can't  penetrate the leaves properly. Therefore photosynthesis can't take place  efficiently. Therefore, 'root producing' food is not manufactured in the leaf.  Therefore roots don't develop properly. Therefore the poor root system can't  collect enough food and water from the soil to send up to produce more leaves which in turn will produce more root. Once the vicious cycle begins, a stunted  and unhealthy tree with poor crops is the result.

To make the problem worse, sweet 'honeydew' on the leaves also attracts large  numbers of ants. It appears that as the ants constantly move over the scale, they frighten away the small wasp parasites which in normal cases would  keep the scale under control.

The good news is that healthy olive trees don't get the scale, sooty mould and ant infestation to any great extent. More good news is that heavily infested  trees are easily fixed.

Normally, one thorough spraying of the entire tree and soil below with a systemic insecticide will be adequate. Nevertheless, to be sure, a second spray  about two weeks later may be worthwhile.

Now, if there is no more live scale, there is no more eating, therefore no more 'honeydew' excreta, therefore no more sooty mould and ants. Over a period of time the dead sooty mould deposit will peel off the leaves from exposure to  the rain, wind and sun. The green leaf surface will be exposed and growth will continue as normal. Treat the tree to an occasional feeding of manure and some water and watch its health come back.

The following excerpt comes from "Olives - Pest Management Guidelines" (UCPMG Publication 8, 1994). These guidelines cover the major olive problems  found in Australia and California and are available for free from their website. (The information comes from California so all references to places, seasons, months and treatments are Californian).

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Saissetia oleae

DESCRIPTION OF THE PEST: Black scale adult females are about 0.20 inch (about the size of a match head) in diameter. They are dark brown or black with  a prominent H-shaped ridge on the back. Young scales are yellow to orange  crawlers and are found on leaves and twigs of the tree. Often, a hand lens is  needed to detect the crawlers. Black scale usually has one generation per year in interior valley olive growing districts. In cooler, coastal regions multiple  generations occur. Black scale prefers dense unpruned portions of trees. Open, airy trees rarely support populations of black scale.

DAMAGE: Young black scale excretes a sticky, shiny honeydew on leaves  of infested trees. At first, affected trees and leaves glisten and then become sooty and black in appearance as sooty mould fungus grows on the honeydew.  Infestations reduce vigour and productivity of the tree. Continued feeding  causes defoliation that reduces the bloom in the following year. Olive pickers  are reluctant to pick olive fruits covered with honeydew and sooty mould.

CULTURAL CONTROL: Pruning to provide open, airy trees discourages black scale infestation and is preferred to chemical treatment.

BIOLOGICAL CONTROL: A number of parasites attack black scale, the most  common are Metaphycus helvolus, Metaphycus bartletti, and Scutellista cyanea. These parasites, combined with proper pruning, provide sufficient control in northern and coastal orchards. In other regions, biological control is often  ineffective because the black scale's development pattern hampers parasite establishment.

ORGANICALLY ACCEPTABLE METHODS: Cultural and biological control and  oil sprays.

WHEN TO TREAT: If infestations are resulting in honeydew, treat the crawlers. In interior valleys, delay treatment until hatching is complete and  crawlers have left protection of the old female body. Once crawlers have  completely emerged, a treatment can be effectively made in summer, fall or  winter provided the scales have not developed into the rubber stage (later  second instar, which are dark, mottled grey, and leathery, with a clear H-shaped  ridge on the back).

TREATMENT: [Due to the chemical nature of the treatments, Olives  Australia is unable to recommend dosages or chemicals to be used. Please check  with your agricultural chemical supplier as to the suitability for olives, method of application and safety precautions needed for the following: Summer or Petroleum Oil, Supracide or Lebaycid. Californian olive growers use Oil  Emulsions, Diazinon 50WP, Methidathion and Carbaryl. Greek olive growers use Supracide as an all-rounder for many olive problems.]