Tropical sod webworms (Herpetogramma phaeopteralis) have recently been encountered in a number of yards in the Panhandle. The worms usually feed in large groups and unfortunately, the first, and basically the only, sign of damage is often a large area of shorter grass due to their feeding. The arrival time of sod webworms is also unfortunate because they are part of a group of caterpillars that successively attack turf including fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), striped grass loopers (Mocisspp.), and the fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus).
Caterpillars are light yellow to orange with brown spots on each body segment and they have a dark, orange-brown head. They will grow to a full length of slight less than 1/2 inch.
The reddish brown pupae are about about 1/4 inch long. The pupae are typically found in the upper thatch layer.
The moths brown with splotchy wings and are about 3/4 inch wide.
Sod webworms are difficult to control because of their spontaneity. However, in the lawn they hide in the thatch during the heat of the day. Over watering and fertilization can increase the amount of thatch. It is important to follow UF/IFAS guidelines for home lawn management.
The first line of defence is healthy turf. Proper fertilization, irrigation, and mowing height can decrease susceptibility of turfgrass against sod webworm. Over-fertilization is a common cause of caterpillar outbreaks in lawns. Cultural practices such as thatch removal by vertical mowing can help eliminate populations. Eggs are laid on grass blades and removal of grass clippings might also reduce populations.
Numerous chemical control options are available, but softer chemicals such as insecticides containing the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis are recommended as a first line of defense. Insecticides should be applied in the morning or evening during feeding time. For additional control strategies and basic information please visit the UF/IFAS Sod Webworm Publication.