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Tiki Hut Looking Shabby? It Could Be a Hungry Caterpillar, UF Experts Say

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — No, they didn’t come for a Mai Tai.

If you spot caterpillars hanging around your Tiki hut this summer, your new guests could be chewing up the roof, according to University of Florida experts in a recent publication.

“Two caterpillar species are known to feed on dried thatched palm leaves, the main material in Tiki hut roofs,” said Lyle Buss, senior biological scientist in the department of entomology and nematology, part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

One of the caterpillar species, Simplica cornicalis, that eats palm leaves in the roofs of Tiki huts. Photo by Lyle Buss

Most damage is reported in July and August, though the caterpillars are active throughout the year, said Buss, one of the publication’s authors.

Infested roofs have a tattered appearance. You may also find caterpillar droppings (frass) between the leaf blades and under the roof, he said.

If you notice damage but don’t see caterpillars, look closely between the layers of thatch. Both species are brown and less than an inch long. They mature into small brown moths. They are most active at night, so you may need a flashlight to spot them, Buss said.

If you’re concerned about caterpillars on your Tiki hut, experts recommend a few control measures.

To prevent caterpillars from establishment, chemical treatments can be applied to both sides of the leaves before they are assembled on the roof. If a roof is already infested, homeowners can apply a Bacillus thuringiensis product or spinosad to the top of the roof when the insects emerge during the evening, Buss explained.

Always read and follow product label directions to ensure proper and safe use, he said.

Buss co-authored Caterpillar Pests of Tiki Huts and Other Thatched Structures with Stephen Brown, horticulture agent with UF/IFAS Extension Lee County.

For answers to your lawn and garden questions, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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