Moths of North Carolina
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Phthorimaea Members:
6 NC Records

Phthorimaea operculella (Zeller, 1873) - Potato Tuberworm Moth

Superfamily: Gelechioidea Family: GelechiidaeSubfamily: GelechiinaeTribe: GnorimoscheminiP3 Number: 421272.00 MONA Number: 2011.00
Species Status: This South American species has been introduced in almost all potato production areas in the world, where it can be a significant pest. It is now present in over 90 countries in the world. Gill et al. (2014) and Rondon (2010) present an excellent illustrated summary of the life history, ecology, and pest status of this species.
Field Guide Descriptions: Covell (1984)Online Photographs: MPG, BugGuide, iNaturalist, Google, BAMONA, GBIF, BOLDTechnical Description, Adults: Gill et al. (2014)Technical Description, Immature Stages: Rondon (2010); Gill et al. (2014)                                                                                 
Adult Markings: The adults are rather nondescript. The labial palp is upturned. The head, thorax, and forewings are brownish to fuscous overall, with fine brown or black specks and streaks. The forewing fold has light yellow scales between two grayish-black spots. A third spot is sometimes evident on males just posterior to the second, and all are readily evident when a resting moth is viewed from above. One of two grayish lines are usually evident in the cilia. The hindwing is gray and has a hair-pencil from the base of the costa in males. The abdomen is gray with two lateral hair-pencils near the apex in males.
Forewing Length: 5.5-7.2 mm
Adult ID Requirements: Identifiable from good quality photos of unworn specimens.
Immatures and Development: The larvae mine the leaves and stems in various solanaceous plants, but most cause problems by boring in potato tubers or mining the leaves of tobacco. Pupation occurs in the soil or leaf litter in a whitish cocoon. Populations have two or more generations per year. They often has five or more generations per year in warm regions, but only two or three at northern latitudes (Rondon, 2010; Gill et al., 2014). The younger larvae are white or yellow with a brown head and prothorax. Their body color changes from white or yellow to pink or green as they mature.
Larvae ID Requirements: Identifiable from good quality photos, especially where associated with known host plants.
Distribution in North Carolina
Distribution: Phthorimaea operculella is native to South America, but has become established worldwide where potatoes and other solanaceous plants are grown. It is found throughout the US where potatoes, tobacco, and other crop plants are grown. In North Carolina it is mostly found in the eastern half of the state.
County Map: Clicking on a county returns the records for the species in that county.
Flight Dates:
 High Mountains (HM) ‚Č• 4,000 ft.
 Low Mountains (LM) < 4,000 ft.
 Piedmont (Pd)
 Coastal Plain (CP)

Click on graph to enlarge
Flight Comments: The adults are active nearly year-round in Florida and California, and from March through October at more northern locales.
Habitats and Life History
Habitats: This species is mostly confined to croplands in the eastern part of the state.
Larval Host Plants: Phthorimaea operculella is polyphagous on members of the Solanaceae (Rondon, 2010). It mostly exploits commercial crops, including potatoes, tobacco, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, but also uses non-commercial species such as European Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum), Field Groundcherry (Physalis mollis), and Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium). - View
Observation Methods: Most records are from infected potatoes or from adults collected in pheromone traps.
Status in North Carolina
Natural Heritage Program Status:
Natural Heritage Program Ranks: GNR SNR
State Protection: Has no legal protection, although permits are required to collect it on state parks and other public lands.
Comments: This is an introduced, commercial pest that does not merit protection.

 Photo Gallery for Phthorimaea operculella - Potato Tuberworm Moth

Photos: 2

Recorded by: Michael P. Morales on 2021-08-22
Sampson Co.
Recorded by: Michael P. Morales on 2021-08-22
Sampson Co.