Moths of North Carolina
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Sole representative of Pterolonchidae in NC
4 NC Records

Homaledra sabalella (Chambers, 1880) - Palm Leaf Skeletonizer Moth

Superfamily: Gelechioidea Family: PterolonchidaeP3 Number: 421687.00 MONA Number: 1422.00
Comments: Homaledra is a small genus with only four recognized species that are found in the New World. Two apparently undescribed species are present in Florida (Hayden, 2018).
Species Status: This species feeds on palm fronds and has become a significant pest in Florida where it can damage ornamental palms. Coconut palms appear to be the most susceptible (Howard and Abreu, 2007).
Field Guide Descriptions: Leckie and Beadle (2018)Online Photographs: MPG, BugGuide, iNaturalist, Google, BAMONA, GBIF, BOLDTechnical Description, Immature Stages: (Howard and Abreu (2007)                                                                                 
Adult Markings: This is a distinctive moth with the head, antenna, thorax, and forewing all uniformly coffee-cream colored to darker grayish tan. The forewings are narrow and elongated, and held flat when resting. The thorax has a tiny black dot at the posterior tip, and the forewing has two elongated dots, one adjoining the inner margin at about one-half the wing length, and a second near the middle of the wing at about four-fifths. A fine row of elongated terminal spots are present and best developed in fresh specimens. The legs are light brown with a few faint blackish blotches, and the foreleg often has a prominent black tip.
Adult ID Requirements: Identifiable from good quality photos of unworn specimens.
Immatures and Development: The larvae feed on palm fronds and skeletonize the older leaves. Females lay clutches of eggs and the larvae feed in groups under webs of silk. They live in silken tubes that are covered in frass and usually feed on the lower leaf surface of the leaf, leaving the upper surface intact. The tubes are progressively lengthened was the caterpillars grow. Large accumulations of frass are often evident that becomes trapped in the overlying webbing. Hayden (2018) noted that the larvae often sandwich together the adjacent sections or leaflets of Serenoa repens and other palms and feed on both leaf surfaces. The larvae are light tan to light green and have an amber-colored head and thoracic shield (Howard and Abreu, 2007). This species will also feed on leaf stems, and can cause the death of an entire frond. Pupation takes place in the larval tubes, and there can be as many as five generations per year in Florida.
Distribution in North Carolina
Distribution: Homaledra sabalella is found in the southeastern US and the Greater Antilles, including Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico (Howard and Abreu (2007). This species is common and widespread in Florida. The range extends westward along the coast to eastern Texas, and northward along coastal regions of South Carolina to central North Carolina. The range may have expanded to some extent since palms have been widely planted as ornamentals in many areas of the Southeast. As of 2021, we have records from three counties near the coast.
County Map: Clicking on a county returns the records for the species in that county.
Flight Dates:
 High Mountains (HM) ≥ 4,000 ft.
 Low Mountains (LM) < 4,000 ft.
 Piedmont (Pd)
 Coastal Plain (CP)

Click on graph to enlarge
Flight Comments: Local populations are multivoltine and active rear-round in Florida. Outside of Florida, the adults have been found from April through August. As of 2021, our two dated recorded are from April and May.
Habitats and Life History
Habitats: Our two records for this species as of 2021 come from sites along the coast where Sabal minor occurs but where Sabal palmetto is only present as cultivated specimens. Its presence at our one natural stand of Sabal palmetto on Bald Head Island needs to be determined.
Larval Host Plants: This species was described by Chambers (1880) from specimens collected from palmettos. Although Cabbage Palmetto (Sabal palmetto) and Dwarf Palmetto (S. minor) appears to be the most important native hosts, Howard and Abreu (2007) have now documented it on 78 species of palms. - View
Observation Methods: The adults are attracted to lights and the large, skeletonized areas of palm leaves are easy to spot.
See also Habitat Account for Live Oak Forests and Maritime Scrub Thickets
Status in North Carolina
Natural Heritage Program Status:
Natural Heritage Program Ranks: GNR S1S3
State Protection: Has no legal protection, although permits are required to collect it on state parks and other public lands.
Comments: This species reaches the northern limit of its range in North Carolina, where it is uncommon.

 Photo Gallery for Homaledra sabalella - Palm Leaf Skeletonizer Moth

Photos: 1

Recorded by: B. Muiznieks on 2014-05-22
Dare Co.