What’s Eating my Citrus?

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CLAY COUNTY – An unknown insect on your citrus tree you value can be shocking. Your first instinct is likely to find a way to get rid of it but did you know oftentimes these insects are not pests or ones that can be tolerated easily by your plant. Knowing how to identify pest and non-pests alike is needed to choose the proper treatments and understanding how you can best protect your plant and the environment.

From pest to butterfly

One extremely common citrus pest in fall is commonly referred to as the Orangedog caterpillar (Papilio cresphontes). This larvae appears striped, with brownish-black and white patches, and moves through five instars as it matures, changing a bit each time. Throughout all variations, the caterpillar almost looks like bird droppings. However, the odd little caterpillar matures into the Giant Swallowtail butterfly.

Look for feeding damage on leaves, in the form of chewed edges and you will likely see young larvae on the leaf surfaces or on the leaf petioles or stems at all stages.

Since this pest matures into a beautiful butterfly and important pollinator, we do not recommend controlling them unless the infestation is very large or the tree is very young. If you do need to manage the issue, remove them by hand or use a bio-pesticide containing Bt (Bacillus thuringensis). For more information, visit https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in134.

Tiny tunnels

Have you ever found leaves on citrus, or other plants, that look to have a serpentine path cut directly through the leaf?

This damage is caused by a common group of pests known as leaf miners. These moths lay their eggs on freshly emerged leaves. When they hatch, the larvae feeds on the inner layers of the leaf creating a serpentine tunnel until it is mature enough to pupate and exit. This process can take up to 22 days. Oftentimes the damage can also include leaf curling or malformations.

In citrus, we mainly see damage from the citrus leafminer (Phyllocnistis citrella) which has been in Florida for around the past 100 years. Several natural predators do work to control the pest and losing a leaf or two to this pest is usually not a major problem. One of the best ways to control it is just to remove the affected leaves as they appear.

Chemical control is also possible using horticultural oil but proper timing is key as the leaf protects the larvae from damage. Products need to be applied to control adult plants and larvae before they enter the leaf. Poor timing or overuse of chemicals can also kill natural insect predators of the leaf miner, so be careful.

With any pesticide products, be sure to follow all directions and precautions stated on the label and contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office for information on pests and effective treatments.

For UF/IFAS Extension Clay County, contact us at IF-SVC-Clay-MG@ufl.edu or call (904)284-6355.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions, or affiliations. USDA, UF/IFAS Extension, FAMU and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating.

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