Cactus Moth
Cactoblastis cactorum
(Berg)
Syn: Zophodia cactorum
Pyralid
Hodges 5970.99


Photo courtesy Pete Williams, Gulf Breeze, Florida, 11-11-08
The cactus moth is also known as South American Cactus Moth and Nopal Moth. The species is not native to the coastal region, but its numbers have been increasing since first appearing in 1989. The adults are non-descript gray-brown with faint dark dots and wavy transverse lines marking the forewings. The rear margins of the hindwings are whitish and semitransparent and the antennae and legs are long. Larvae are caterpillars that are pink-cream colored at first and become orange with age. Black and red dots on the dorsal surface of each body segment coalesce with age to form dark bands. The caterpillar host plants are prickly cactus.
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Note: The Cactus moth is a widely used biological control agent of prickly pear cactus in Australia and South Africa. When the cactus moth appeared in the Florida Keys, it quickly spread as far as South Carolina and Alabama. The cactus moth destroys prickly pear, and is a threat to natural biodiversity, horticulture, and forage in the southwestern United States and Mexico.

Locations Concerned about the potential damage caused by the cactus moth are those areas west of the Mississippi. A partnership has been formed between federal agencies (USGS BRD, USDA APHIS), state agencies (states' Departments of Agriculture), universities (Mississippi State University) Cooperative Extension Service, and other interested groups to monitor the distribution of the cactus moth. This partnership developed the Cactus Moth Detection and Monitoring Network, composed of volunteer monitors from public and private land management units, garden clubs and Master Gardeners to monitor the spread of the moth. The program relies on volunteers to monitor cactus populations and report observations. This is the first step of an Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR) approach. The data will be used to support modeling efforts to better predict likely locations for new prickly pear cactus and the cactus moth, helping guide surveys.


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