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Controlling Azalea Caterpillars on Azaleas & Blueberry Bushes

In late July, Larry Kinsolving, a Jackson County Master Gardener noticed an insect pest in the beautiful, large azalea bushes that frame the front entrance to his home in Marianna, Florida.

The azalea caterpillar, Datana major, is found in Florida from late summer to early fall on azaleas and other plants including blueberries.  If left undetected, the caterpillars can defoliate (eat up leaves) of much of a plant. In general, caterpillars seldom kill the plants they feed on, but the stress caused by defoliation can reduce flowering or fruiting the following spring, if it becomes a serious problem.

Watch the following video to see how Larry keeps these pests in check.

Azalea Caterpillar Description

The immature caterpillar is approximately 1/2 inch long and reddish to brownish-black with white and yellow stripes. The mature caterpillar is about 2 inches long, black, and has 8 yellow to white longitudinal broken stripes. The head and legs are crimson or reddish in color.

Life Cycle

Azalea caterpillar Eggs are deposited by the adult female moth in masses of 80-100 on the underside of the leaf. The first-instar caterpillars feed in a cluster side by side unless disturbed. In Florida, there are one or two generations annually with caterpillar feeding occurring from late summer through early fall.

Control

Natural (DiPel) or synthetic (Spinosad) insecticides may be used to control azalea caterpillars when the larvae are small. But the simplest method to control large, adult worms is to remove them by hand. In the video, Larry showed how easy it is to find and remove this pest from your azalea bushes.  While the caterpillar appears hairy, it is harmless to humans and can be handled without concern.  If caterpillar handling makes you squeamish, use gloves, or knock them off and squish them on the ground.

For more information, use the following publication links:
Azalea Caterpillar
Azalea Caterpillar Chemical Control
Key Azalea Pests
Azaleas at a Glance

5 Comments on “Controlling Azalea Caterpillars on Azaleas & Blueberry Bushes

  1. Thank you for this video, Larry. Not surprised that you have used your time so well to help others.
    I appreciate the Master Gardner program. I call Carl for help often. During this virus, we Emil each other.
    From your post, there seems to be more l can reap/harvest from your program and l will.
    Congratulation; You are a star.
    Barbara and Wayne

  2. Hi Larry,
    I watched your youtube and hand picked off the azalea caterpillars last month. A tedious job since we have 50 azaleas. We’ve lived in Greenwood for 5 years and I’ve never seen such an infestation! I never could find the Spinosad that you recommended. Lowe’s told me it was banned! I bought Spectracide Triazicide concentrate. I’m leary about using it because of the blowback to the person.
    Now I’m finding Sawfly larva on my Knockout Roses. Actually they defolliated about a dozen plants. I’ve hand picked off about 100 so far. I’m spraying with a Fungicide and hoping for the best.
    Are other homeowners experiencing this menace?

    • Caterpillars of all types are a constant challenge. Spinosad is the active ingredient, but not the brand name. Monterey Garden Insect Spray is one product that is commonly avialable, but there are others. DiPel is also comonly available in Garden Centers that will also only kill caterpillars.

  3. If you remove them. Won’t they just come back?

    • Yes, if you choose the removal method you are just reducing the population on your plants. There could be another hatch to deal with. The adult moths lay eggs, so by removing the larvae (caterpillars) you eliminate the life phase that does the damage to the plants. But even if you use a chemical to control them, there will also be future hatches. This video demonstrates a natural control method, but it is something you have to do regularly each year.