Light Brown Apple Moth

Light brown apple moth caterpillars will eat just about anything they can get their little jaws on.  Chances are your favorite fruit is on their menu, too.  Check out the field guide below and scroll down to learn how you can help Nate Green fight this malicious moth!

Printable Field Guide: PDF

  • Top view of a light brown apple moth adult.  Adult females are about 1 cm long and males are smaller.  One moth may have wing patterns that are very different from others.  Photo Credit: Julieta Brambila, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org

  • Bottom view of a light brown apple moth adult.  It is difficult to tell light brown apple moths apart from similar native species.  Photo Credit: Julieta Brambila, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org

  • Top views of adult light brown apple moths showing how different their wing patterns can be.  Photo Credit: Todd M. Gilligan and Marc E. Epstein, CSU, Bugwood.org

  • Caterpillars of the light brown apple moth are often found stuck to silken mats inside rolled leaves or between fruits.  Full-grown larvae are a bit larger than a thumb nail.  Photo Credit: USDA, http://www.hungrypests.com/the-threat/light-brown-apple-moth.php

  • Adult males have smooth antennae and are much smaller than adult females.  Depending on how warm the climate is, the light brown apple moth can have between 2 and 4 generations per year.  Photo Credit: Department of Primary Industries and Water, Tasmania Archive, Bugwood.org

  • Light brown apple moth females usually lay their eggs on the upper surfaces of leaves.  Eggs are light green or yellow and are laid in an overlapping pattern that looks like fish scales. Photo Credit: Department of Primary Industries and Water, Tasmania Archive, Bugwood.org

  • When a light brown apple moth caterpillar is ready to change into an adult, it goes through a process called "pupation." Here we see a pupa inside a silken cocoon with a much younger light brown apple moth caterpillar.  Photo Credit: Department of Primary Industries and Water, Tasmania Archive, Bugwood.org

  • Light brown apple moth caterpillars are light green or yellowish.  When they first hatch they are very tiny, only a couple of millimeters long, and eventually grow to around 1 to 1.5 cm long.  Photo Credit: Todd M. Gilligan and Marc E. Epstein, CSU, Bugwood.org

  • Soon an adult light brown apple moth will emerge from this pupa.  Can you see the outline of the adult's wings?  Photo Credit: Todd M. Gilligan and Marc E. Epstein, CSU, Bugwood.org

  • The light brown apple moth can eat many different types of plants, but apple trees and fruit are one of its' favorites.  The moth's larvae chew up apple tree leaves, damage buds, and can damage the surface of fruit.  Photo Credit: Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

  • Stone fruits, such as peaches, are also threatened by the light brown apple moth.  Photo Credit: Peggy Greb, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

  • Grapes are a very important crop grown in parts of California where the light brown apple moth has been found.  Larvae weaken grape plants with their feeding and spin silken nests between the grapes, encouraging them to rot.  Photo Credit: Ohio State Weed Lab Archive, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

  • Berries that grow on canes, such as blackberries and raspberries, are also vulnerable to attack by the light brown apple moth.   Photo Credit: Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org

  • Many citrus trees are grown in parts of California where light brown apple moth has been found and are at risk from this hungry pest!  Photo Credit: Lesley Ingram, Bugwood.org

  • Older light brown apple moth caterpillars often fold leaves over themselves to form a protective shelter while they feed, which is why they are called "leaf rollers."  Photo Credit: Department of Primary Industries and Water, Tasmania Archive, Bugwood.org

  • Light brown apple moth caterpillars eat the tissue between leaf veins, called "skeletonizing," and roll leaves up tightly with silk cocoons to make shelters, reducing the ability of damaged leaves to make food for the tree.  Photo Credit: Department of Primary Industries and Water, Tasmania Archive, Bugwood.org

  • Light brown apple moth caterpillars chew holes in leaves and skeletonize them.  They also spin visible white webbing for attachment and shelter while feeding. Photo Credit: USDA APHIS, http://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/plant_pest_info/lba_moth/images/s...

  • Botrytis bunch rot, a fungal disease, is made worse on these Chardonnay Grapes because of surface damage to the grapes by the light brown apple moth larva on the left.  A pupa is also visible between the grapes on the right.  Photo Credit: Nick Mills, Professor, University of Berkeley, http://cisr.ucr.edu/light_brown_apple_moth.html

  • Light brown apple moth feeding damage on grapes.  Damaged grapes at the center of the bunch cause fungal disease to spread to healthy fruit when the grapes ripen.  Photo Credit: James Hook, Viticultural Agronomist, DJ's Growers

  • The most important damage that the light brown apple moth causes is on fruits.  Caterpillar feeding has caused the ugly brown patches on the surfaces of these apples.  Caterpillars can also sometimes eat the insides of fruit.  Photo Credit: Department of Primary Industries and Water, Tasmania Archive, Bugwood.org

  • Caught in the act!  The light brown apple moth caterpillar in the center of this photo has caused feeding damage on these young apples, which will likely make the apples unable to be sold later.  Photo Credit: Department of Primary Industries and Water, Tasmania Archive, Bugwood.org

  • Feeding by light brown apple moth caterpillars can destroy young leaves and shoots, causing the plants to be stunted. Photo Credit: Todd M. Gilligan and Marc E. Epstein, CSU, Bugwood.org

  • Light brown apple moth caterpillars feed on and make their nests between fruits, causing them to rot and not develop properly.  Photo Credit: USDA, http://www.hungrypests.com/the-threat/light-brown-apple-moth.php

  • Extensive Botrytis sporulation on advanced gray mold of strawberry fruit.  Photo Credit: Steven Koike, UCCE. http://ucanr.edu/blogs/strawberries_caneberries/index.cfm?tagname=grey%2...

  • Knowing where light brown apple moths are is very important to keep them from spreading.  House-shaped traps that have a pheromone bait only the adult males can smell are put in orchards and fields to keep track of them. Males come towards the smell, get stuck in the trap, and are counted later.  Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy Hillary Thomas, UC Davis, http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=3008 

  • Adult male light brown apple moths find females using pheromones.  Special plastic twist ties that smell like females are placed around crops and orchards to confuse the males and stop them from reproducing.  Photo Credit: UCCE Santa Cruz, http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=3794

  • Plant nurseries in California have lost a lot of money due to the light brown apple moth.  They are not allowed to have adults or caterpillars on plants that are shipped to other places, so must keep a close watch for the moths and spray their plants with expensive special pesticides.  Photo Credit: Rachel McCarthy, Cornell University - NEPDN, Bugwood.org

  • Many plants that the light brown apple moth eats are sold in nurseries for planting in homeowners' yards and gardens.  In places where light brown apple moth is found, plants must be sprayed with chemicals to ensure the moth is not moved to new places.  Photo Credit: Eugene E. Nelson, Bugwood.org

Scientific Name: Epiphyas postvittana

Description: LBAM adults are small, brown moths with skinny antennae and pointy heads that look a bit like snouts.  The adult males are smaller than the females, which are usually between 1 and 1.5 cm long.  The moths’ wings are yellowish-brown, and males sometimes have darker, reddish-brown wing tips.  LBAM eggs are very tiny and are laid on the top of host plant leaves.  When the caterpillars hatch from the eggs they are tiny too, only a couple of millimeters long, but they eventually grow to be a little bit longer than a thumbnail.  Caterpillars are yellowish, light or bright green and sometimes have a brown head.  LBAM caterpillars and moths look very similar to some native species (not bad guys!), and it often takes special bug ID training or DNA testing to tell them apart.

 

Native Range: Australia

 

Introduced Range: New Zealand, the British Isles, Hawaii and parts of California

Habitat: LBAM is most commonly a problem in orchards and crop fields, but it also likes landscaping plants and some forest tree species.

 

Host Plants: The LBAM isn’t very picky!  LBAM caterpillars can eat plants from more than 290 genera including thousands of different species.  This hungry pest especially likes fruit crops such as apples, pears, peaches, blackberries, citrus, grapes and strawberries.  Vegetable crops (such as peppers, tomatoes, corn and cabbage), flowers (such as roses, dahlias and camellias) and trees (such as walnut, oak, alder, willow and cottonwood) are also attacked.

 

The Facts: LBAM caterpillars cause damage to plants by feeding on the buds, fruit, shoots and leaves.  They are called “leaf rollers” because the older larvae commonly roll up leaves to create a shelter in which they can feed.  They may also stick two leaves together or spin silken nests between fruits that are close together.  This behavior makes it very difficult for natural enemies to find LBAM caterpillars and also protects them from pesticides.  When caterpillars feed on leaves, they eat everything except for the veins, causing a “skeletonized” appearance and reducing the amount of food the leaves can make for the plant.  In crops like apples, grapes and raspberries, caterpillars damage the surface of the fruits, allowing pathogens to invade and making the fruit unable to be sold.  Larvae also eat many plants that are used in landscaping and home gardens, making it easy for them to be spread to new places by hitchhiking on nursery plants.  Because LBAM threatens so many different kinds of important crop plants and is difficult to control, it has caused big problems in California, where it was discovered in 2007.  Scientists and government agencies in California are working hard to reduce the numbers and spread of LBAM with quarantines and pheromone-baited moth traps in the areas where it has been found, but these measures are very costly and time-consuming.  If you live in a place that is quarantined for LBAM in California, remind your family to help our plant heroes combat this pest by not moving plants or produce out of your yard!