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.
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.
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.