Pine tip moth

Natural History
Needle damage from the Nantucket pine tip moth
Photo credit: R. F. Billings - Texas Forest Service

Pine tip moths are a group of insects that cause damage to young trees by feeding on growing shoot tips. Although pine tip moths usually do not lead to tree death, severe damage from growth loss and stem deformity can result. Of the species found in Florida, the Nantucket pine tip moth (Rhyacionia frustrana) and the subtropical pine tip moth (Rhyacionia subtropica) are the most common.

In the spring, female moths lay their eggs on pine shoots. Eggs hatch 5 to 30 days later and the new larvae feed on surrounding, new pine growth and then bore into the bud and shoot. The larvae devour and damage these tree parts for 3 to 4 weeks as they move progressively downwards,hollowing out the shoot and killing it. The larvae molt and become pupae that attach themselves in the cavities that they hollowed out while eating. From the pupae, adult moths emerge and the cycle begins again.


Identifying Characteristics

Identifying the injury: Pine needles of infected trees turn from green to reddish-brown and will ultimately fall off. Branch tips will be dead or dying and are often curved or tipped. Resin and fine webbing will accumulate on branch tips. Dead and damaged buds, shoots, and flowers will often be hollowed out.
Identifying the insect: Adult pine tip moths have a wingspan of 1/2" and are 1/4" long. Their bodies are gray, copper, and red colored but it is unlikely that you will see them as they are not normally active during the day. The larvae are cream-colored caterpillars with a black head. As the larvae mature, their body turns brown to orange and grows to a length of 3/8".
Susceptible trees: Loblolly and shortleaf pine are the favorite hosts. Sand, spruce, pond, and slash pine are sometimes attacked. Longleaf pine is rarely infected. Pine tip moths generally attack only young seedlings and saplings. Attacks are rare once trees exceed 15' in height.



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