Hey Professor Lee,
Help! My plants have ticks—or at least that’s what they look like. The stems have a bunch of round whitish bugs with black spots. I know they’re bugs because I squashed them between my fingers. They were kinda waxy and sticky. I picked them off a week ago, but today I found more. What are these things? Sorry I didn’t send a picture, but I broke my phone.
Sounds like you have a variety of scale bug a.k.a. barnacles. There are about a thousand different scale bugs but mostly they are either hard or soft bodied. Sounds like you have the soft bodied type that secretes both waxy and honeydew-like substances. These plant-sucking pests will do major damage in large numbers. Like most insects they have egg, larval and adult stages. You may also need to look for ants that feed off the honeydew secretions scale bugs secrete. To keep ants off my plants I like to wrap the base of the trunk with aluminum foil and smear it with petroleum jelly. The ants are not able to get past this barrier. Make sure to replace the wrap if/when it gets clogged with ants or dirt and debris.
With small infestations you can simply remove and dispose of infected branches and leaves, or you can continue to keep removing the adults by hand and/or try rubbing them with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol or Neem. The larval stage can be controlled by introducing predators such as ladybugs or lacewings. Organic pesticides like a simple insecticidal soap will also kill the larvae, but multiple treatments are required to kill the bugs as they continue to hatch from eggs. You could also try using Neem oil or any organic horticultural oil that smothers the insects in all stages of development.
Pests like these suck. Keep at it and don’t give up.