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Citrus Pests


Butterflies and moths


Scientific name


Order Lepidoptera

Similar species


Members of the Lepidoptera are often confused with cicadas, bees, and wasps. The distinguishing characteristics for each group are listed below.

Lepidoptera Bees Wasps Cicadas
Wing texture and pattern Scaled with assorted, multicolored patterns. Membranous and translucent. Membranous and transluent. Membranous with assorted color patterns.
Body texture Scaled or dusty. Fuzzy. Smooth. Smooth.
Mouthparts Siphoning. Siphoning. Chewing Piercing-sucking.

Diagnostic characteristics

  • Smallest - 4 mm (0.08 in.) wingspan.
  • Largest - 188 mm (7.4 in.) wingspan.
  • Black to silvery white body color.
  • Body size varies from elongate and conical to broad and wide.
  • Pair of forewings and hindwings which fold upright or are held tent-like at rest.
  • Most species with multi-patterned forewings varying between dark to bright colors creating distinct markings.
  • Several species with uniform colored hindwings ranging from silvery white to black.
  • Some species with a feathery hindwing appearance.
  • Scaled wings, abdomen, thorax, and head that appear dust-like when touched.
  • Sucking mouthparts with a small labrum at the base of a long, coiled proboscis.
  • Well-developed labial palps which extend forward in front of the face when feeding.
  • Several species with two ocelli near the just above each compound eye.
  • Several species with tympana located either ventrolaterally on the metathorax or on the anterior sternite of the abdomen.
  • Lepidoptera have tibial spurs, tarsal claws, or leg spines collectively used for identification.
  • Appendages firmly attached to pupal casing.
  • Cylindrical in shape.
  • Mostly smooth though few species have dorsal spines.
  • Pupa initially light green to reddish brown but darkens and often becomes transparent before adult emergence.
  • Smallest 3 mm (0.12 in.).
  • Largest - 114.3 mm (4.5 in.).
  • 4 to 7 larval instars. In some species, the final larval instar is dedicated to spinning the silk cocoon.
  • Early instars are often gregarious and later instars are typically solitary.
  • Early instars range from pale green to translucent but develop either a mottled appearance or assorted patterns (stripes, spots, or dashes) that darken over successive instars.
  • Most larvae are caterpillar-like consisting of a cylindrical body with 13 segments.
  • Few species have a flattened body shape for moving and feeding within the host epidermis.
  • Downward facing head and a pair of well-developed abdominal prolegs on each thoracic segment. Some species without legs, prolegs, and crochets (hook-like structures at end of the prolegs).
  • Six simple eyes (stemmata) and pair of short antennae above the chewing mouthparts.
  • Few species have a snake-like head or appear like a bird dropping.
  • Smallest - 0.2 mm (0.008 in.).
  • Largest - 1.5 mm (0.06 in.).
  • Initially creamy-white to golden-brown but darkens over time.
  • Normally spherical or with a flat and oval shape. Some species with tapered ends or hemispherical with a flat side fixed to the foliage.
  • Textured with fine, longitudinal lines.
  • Eggs are laid singly or in masses on either the upper or lower leaf surface.
  • Several species deposit layered egg masses covered within a cotton-like protective covering or brown scales.


Citrus hosts

Several lepidopterans have all citrus species and their hybrids listed as hosts including the cabbage looper, cotton cutworm, Egyptian cottonworm, false codling moth, giant swallowtail, and light brown apple moth. See the individual fact sheets for more detailed information.

Non-citrus hosts

Lepidoptera have a broad host range that includes weeds as well as vegetable, field, and flower crops. See individual fact sheets for more detailed information.

Host damage


Refer to the individual fact sheets for each lepidopteran species for more detailed information.


Larvae can feed on blossoms, flower buds, and shoots.


Lepidopteran damage to fruit is species specific. It may involve mines in the epidermis of the fruit, holes in the rind, or extensive boring and pulp feeding in the interior of the fruit. Damage may occur on small, hard developing fruit or ripe fruit and can result in early fruit drop.


Lepidopteran larvae feed primarily on the leaves of their host plants. They may exhibit a preference for new growth flushes. Visible damage differs depending on the lepidopteran species. They may feed on the lower leaf surface, chew large holes completely through the leaves, or skeletonize the leaves with only the leaf veins remaining. In the case of mining lepidopterans, the larvae produce tunnels beneath the epidermis that can result in deformation, yellowing (chlorosis), or leaf drop.


In root-feeding species, larvae may burrow down into the soil to feed on host plant roots during the day.



An adult lepidopteran female may lay several hundred eggs in her lifetime. Eggs are typically deposited directly on the host plant, either singly or in clusters. Eggs may be deposited on leaves, developing fruit, fallen fruit, near blossoms, on the tip of a branch, or in masses that are covered by scales.

Eggs typically hatch in less than a week. Most early instar larvae feed in groups (gregarious). Host plant damage is species-specific. Most species feed on the leaves, flowers, or fruit. However, some will feed on the roots as well.

After extensive host plant feeding through multiple instars, lepidopteran larvae pupate. Pupation can occur directly on the host plant, underground, or in the leaf litter. Butterfly larvae develop a chrysalis which typically hangs upside down by a silken thread on the host plant. Moths typically form a cocoon, often using silk or dirt and oral secretions. Some species emerge with a week or two while others overwinter as pupae, emerging as adults the following spring.

Usually butterflies are diurnal and moths are nocturnal. However, several moth species are active at dawn and dusk. Sexual dimorphism, where males and females vary in appearance, is a common trait in Lepidoptera.



Note: Adult moths and butterflies are often confused for one another. Each group can be easily distinguished through several characteristics.

Moths Butterflies
Antennae Varies. Usually thread-like with either consistent thickness (filiform) or gradual tapering (setaceous). Slender and knobbed at the tip.
Activity period Active at night (nocturnal). Active during the day (diurnal).
Resting posture Wings held tent-like or spread out flat. Wings are held upright and close to the body.

Note: Pupae of moths and butterflies are commonly mistaken for one another. Several characteristics can be used to differentiate the two groups.

Moths Butterflies
Pupal casing type A silk or dirt casing that contains developing pupa (cocoon). A smooth, hardened outer covering of an developing pupa (chrysalis).
Pupal casing composition Silk spun by the caterpillar or dirt held together by oral secretions. Hardened caterpillar skin.
Pupal casing location Either on the host plant or underground. Suspended upside down by a set of spines or hooks on the posterior tip of the abdomen called the cremaster.



Heppner, J.B. 1998. Featured Creatures: Citrus leafminer, Phyllocnistis citrella Stainton (Insecta: Lepdioptera: Gracillariidae: Phyllocnistinae). University of Florida - Department of Entomology and Nematology. Extension Publication EENY-38. (

Stelinski, L. 2007. Featured Creatures: Citrus peelminer, Marmara gulosa Gullièn and Davis (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Gracillariidae). University of Florida - Department of Entomology and Nematology. Extension Publication EENY-415. (

McAuslane, H. 1998. Featured Creatures: Giant swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes Cramer (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Papilionidae). University of Florida - Department of Entomology and Nematology. Extension Publication EENY-8. (

Triplehorn, C., and N. Johnson. 2004. Lepidoptera pp. 571- 579. In Borror and DeLong's Introduction to the study of insects. 7th ed. Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning. Belmonte, California.



Guerrero, S., J.A. Weeks, and A.C. Hodges


Citrus Pests
Content last updated June, 2012