Scale insects are unique and look quite different from other insects. In their juvenile growth stage, they are referred to as “crawlers.” As crawlers, they are highly mobile, six-legged, have no protective cover, and are usually smaller than a pinhead. However, at maturity, scale insects are immobile and have no visible legs or antennae.
Scale insects can be divided into two groups: armored scales and soft scales. Armored scales secrete a protective cover over their bodies and usually overwinter as eggs beneath the female cover. Soft scales are usually larger, lack the protective cover, but protect themselves with waxy secretions. Soft scale produce a sticky substance called honeydew; armored scale do not.
Magnolia scale is our largest soft scale insect, reaching ½ inch in length. This scale spends the winter on small twigs as tiny, dark-colored nymphs. In the spring, the scales begin to feed, mature, and change color. The males, which turn white, are smaller than the females, about 1/8 inch in length, and emerge as tiny, gnat-like insects. The males mate with the females and then die. The females turn white to brownish-purple in color and continue to enlarge through July.