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Banana Moth

Opogona sp

Taxnomy - What is a banana moth? It is a true moth species, in the family Tineidae, with the scientific name Opogona sacchari (Bojer). It is found in several different tropical and sub-tropic regions worldwide. It was originally reported in the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean, and then reported in Africa and Europe. It was next reported in South American, and now North America and Hawaii. The Division of Plant Industry, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Gainesville, first identified it in Florida on May 28, 1963 on Enterolobium sp.

Identifying characteristics- The adults are small (wing span 10 mm), light-brown nocturnal moths.  Their hinds wing are fringed.  The adult moth does not feed on the plants; it is only the larval/ caterpillar stage.  The larva is small, reaching a length of only 32mm.  Its head consists of a distinct burgundy-color capsule.  The body is translucent cream color with many small hairs on it. The larva is never found outside of the plant or soil.     

Biology- The adults are nocturnal and have their mating flights in the very early morning hours, around 3 am. The male and female mate and the female deposits her eggs on the selected host plant. Eggs are light yellow and very small, only 0.5 mm long. They can be laid singly or in large groups in plant crevasses. The adult form lives for approximately 5-7 days.  

Within 5-6 days small caterpillars emerge to begin feeding on plant tissue. The larvae are cream colored with a burgundy head capsule. They have 7 pairs of legs, 3 in the front of the body and 4 pair on the back. A 10x-hand lens is necessary to see the few hairs on their body. There are also additional species of moth whose larva can inflict similar damage. If there is any doubt as to which larval species is present, consult a professional.

 They are never found outside the plant tissue, but depending on the crop the larva will feed on different parts of the plant. The roots are preferred on the areca and bamboo palms, while on cane crops the cane stalk is favored. On other palms, such as pygmy dates, they can be found feeding in the crown on newly emerging foliage. With white birds-of-paradise the larva eat the roots then work their way up into the base of the plant. They are very versatile feeders.

As the caterpillars continue to feed their body size will increase. In the last larval stage the caterpillar will be 26-32 mm in length. At this point the larva stops feeding and spins a white silken cocoon 16 mm in length. The white cocoon is covered with plant debris and frass (caterpillar excrement) making it dark in color. In cane crops these can be easily found be pulling the bark off infected cane. Once in the pupal case it takes 21-26 days for the developing larva to emerge as an adult.

The moth can complete its life cycle in 50 days. This means to a grower that there can be 7-8 generations per year in greenhouse conditions.

Opogona larva



Opogona damage in dracaena

Plant injury symptoms- Depending upon the host plant, many symptoms can appear. The tips of leaves turn brown and or plants falling out of pots due to the fact there is no root system left to support the plant.  Bore-holes in trunks with frass deposits are yet another key sign that this species is present. 

Host Plants- Many palm species , bromeliad, dracaena sp., strelitzia sp., and others.

Host Distribution - Distribution Map

Control - Education is the key. Know the host plants and learn the symptoms, so that scouting will recognize the problem while it is easily controlled and before the crop is unsaleable. Be sure to inspect incoming cane to keep from infesting the nursery. To reduce chance of plants getting banana moth, keep them stress free with proper fertilization, irrigation, and lighting. Once a crop is found to be infested with banana moth an assessment must be done to decide if it is economically viable to treat the crop. Crops like cane are difficult to treat primarily because the larvae are protected inside the cane and it is hard for sprays to reach them. On the other hand crops infected with the larvae in the soil or roots can easily be treated.

For a soil treatment either beneficial nematodes or chemical controls can be used. Many growers have found many advantages in using beneficial nematodes. For one thing, this means that there is no worker re-entry time. This method will also provide residual control for several weeks. The nematodes can be applied many different ways; chemigation, blow spraying, drenching, and even backpack spraying. Beneficial nematodes enjoy an additional advantage over traditional chemicals in that banana moth larvae cannot build resistance to nematodes. The nematodes are attracted to the larvae in the soil, acting as little heat seeking missiles that infect the larvae and then kill them. Growers have found as a side benefit that their fungus gnat population is greatly reduced as well. Studies done by J.E. Pena, R Duncan and V. Torres of the Tropical Research and Education Center, University of Florida, IFAS in Homestead have shown 100% mortality of banana moth larvae in trials. Keep in mind that nematodes treat for larvae, not the adults. Nematodes are readily available to growers. With one phone call certain suppliers can have them to you the next day, ready for application.

Chemical control is another alternative. In the trials done by Dr. Pena and his associates, several chemicals were tested. Carbaryl offered control of larvae as a drench, but only if it comes in direct contact with the caterpillar. Chlorpyriphos gave the same result, while Dipel only offered marginal control. Other tested materials are not labeled for this use anymore. As with any chemicals being applied be sure it is labeled for your application site.

What controls banana moth best is a combination program. This means applying beneficial nematodes to the soil for larva control in conjunction with spraying an adulticide. Simple practices like closing nursery doors to exclude the adult moths, and removing severely infested plants from the property will help. If plants are thrown in pile or in a dumpster at the nursery, adult moths can still emerge. Be sure to scout!! Do not let a population get out of hand; control early or do a preventive program if the crop has a history of susceptibility to banana moth.

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