Azalea Caterpillar
Datana major (Grote and Robinson) (Notodontidae)

L.L. Hyche, Associate Professor
Department of Entomology & Plant Pathology
Auburn University

The azalea caterpillar (Photo 1) range includes much of the eastern U.S. from Maine to Florida west to Arkansas and Kansas. It occurs throughout Alabama, but seems to be most common in the southern two-thirds of the state. Azalea is the preferred host, but the caterpillar has been reported to occur on apple, blueberry, and red oak.

Life Cycle, Description, and Habits

The azalea caterpillar overwinters as a pupa (Photo 2) in a cell in the soil; adults emerge in June. Moths are grayish to tan to brown, with thin darker lines across the front wings. Wingspan is 40-50 mm. Eggs are laid in clusters on the undersides of leaves. Oviposition begins in late June (South Alabama) or early July. Early stage larvae are gregarious and feed by skeltonizing the leaf; older larvae consume whole leaves.

Full-grown caterpillars (Photo 1) are about 50 mm long. The head, plate behind the head, legs, and anal plate are bright red. The body is black and marked with white or pale yellow, broken longitudinal lines that give the caterpillar a spotted appearance. Coloration and markings of younger larvae (Photo 1) are different from those of the mature caterpillar; the head is black or shaded, thoracic legs are black, and the body is red with four white on yellowish solid longitudinal lines down each side. Caterpillars are present from July into October, but are generally most common during August and September. Two broods may possibly occur each year in Alabama.

Occurrence, Damage, Importance

The azalea caterpillar is an important and serious pest of azalea. It occurs on apple, and has been reported from red oak, but is not considered to be a threat to shade and forest trees in Alabama.

For additional information

[ Notodontidae ]  [ Lepidoptera ]   [ Foliage Feeders ]   [ Crown Insects ]   [ Alabama Trees ]

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