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FloridaGardener's Blog
Jul 10

Written by: host
7/10/2009 9:54 PM

Snowbush Caterpillar – Spanworm

Also known as White-tipped Black Moth (Melanchroia chephise), these colorful tiger-striped inchworm caterpillars attack Otaheite gooseberry (Phyllanthus acidus), white sapote (Casimiroa edulis), and Snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata) plants.

These caterpillars may be controlled with spinosad insecticide, B.t. (Bacillus thuringiensis), horticultural pesticidal soap spray and hand picking. If left to their own devices and not quickly controlled these inchworms have been known to quickly defoliate the plants mentioned above and may actually begin chewing the bark off the affected plants once they have finished eating all of the leaves. (Hopefully the wasp behind my index finger in the top left of my photo is looking to make a dinner out of the these caterpillars! If so, all is forgiven if that is the bugger that stung me when I was Bar-B-Queing this weekend).

The yellow and black larva is the immature stage of a moth called the White-tipped Black. This caterpillar’s looping crawling style indicates that it is a member of the “inchworm” family of moths, also known as “spanworms”. Inchworms have fewer abdominal legs than many other caterpillars, hence they stretch out the length of their bodies and pull their rear section up quickly when they walk, which forms a loop.

The larva is full-grown at about an inch long and ready to pupate at which point it enters the ground and goes through changes to turn into a moth there. Snowbush caterpillars emerge as a moth in about seven days. Pupae can also be found in loose silken webbing tying leaves together in the canopy. Melanchroia chephise is a day flying moth with a wing span of about one inch. The wings are velvety navy-blue, almost black with white margined tips on each of the four wings. The moth has an orange thorax and black abdomen.

This moth and its larvae are found in Florida and Texas, south to Paraguay. Reports also indicate they affect plants in Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Illinois.

Copyright ©2009 Paul J. Erdek, FloridaGardener.com

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