The Florida fern caterpillar


Material Information

The Florida fern caterpillar
Series Title:
Bulletin / U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Bureau of Entomology ;
Physical Description:
11 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.
Chittenden, F. H ( Frank Hurlbut ), 1858-1929
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Bureau of Entomology
Place of Publication:
Washington, D.C
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Florida fern caterpillar   ( lcsh )
Ferns -- Diseases and pests   ( lcsh )
federal government publication   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Statement of Responsibility:
by F.H. Chittenden.
General Note:
Issued October 29, 1913.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 029625534
oclc - 22541554
lcc - SB818 .B85 no.125 1913
ddc - 632
System ID:

Full Text

'N- !

14 m

// J.

L 0. HOWARD. Entomoloei and Chief of Bunau.



In Charge of Truck Crop and Stored Product Insect Investigations. ,




L. 0. HoWARD. Entomologist and Chief of Bureau.
C. L. MARTLATT, Entomnologist and Acting Ch('Moif in Absence of Chief.
R. S. CLIFTON. Erecutire A.sistant.
W. F. TASrETr, Chief Clerk.

F. H. CHITTrENDEN. in charge of truck crop and .stored product inseeJ investigations.
A. D. HOPKINS. in charge of forest insect invem.tigatlions.
W. D. HUNTER, in charge of southern field crop insect investigations.
F. M. WEBSTER. in charge of cereal and forage inscet investigations.
A. L. QUINTrANCE. in charge of deciduous fruit insect investigations.
E. F. PHILLIPS, in charge of bee culture.
A. F. BURGESS. in charge of gip.ny moth and brown-tail moth investigations.
ROLLA P. CUkRIE, in charge of editorial work.
MABEL COLCORD. in charge of library.


F. H. CHITTENDEN. in charge.

MILLIKEN. entomological avsistant.f.
I. J. CONDIT. R. S. VAILE. collaborators in California.
P. T. COLE, collaborator in tidewater Virginia.
W. N. ORD, collaborator in Oregon.
THOMAS II. JONES, (collaborator in Porto Rico.
SISCo. preparators.


Recent injuries. ........................ ----..... ------..................
Descriptive.................... ......................................... 5
The moth .......... ..... . .......... ..... --.-.--........- 5
T he larva ... .... .. . . .. ..... I
The pupa................... ...................................... 8
D istrib ution ................ ... ............. . ---... .--- ------. --- 8
Injuries and lhalit, .... .... .............................. .---- ---.. ......- ..- 8
N atura l enem ies ........ .......................... ..- ......- .---------- 10
M ethods of control .. ....................................................... 10


Fic. I .-Fl'lorida feru caterl;illir i Eriius florideasis) : Moth and larvam
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During recent years a species of caterpillar, Eriopus flordensis
Guen.. native to Florida and tropical America has made its appear-
ance in injurious numbers in northern greenhouses, notably in the
District of Columbia, in Illinois, and in Ohio. It is apparently re-
stricted to ferns, on which it feeds naturally in its occurrence in the
open in the warm South, and it has undoubtedly been introduced
into northern greenhouses in ferns from Florida. It is a compara-
tively large and conspicuous species, of caterpillar and, though not
closely related to the true cutworms, has the same habit as cutworms
Sof cutting or severing portions of the fern plants, apparently de-
stroying more than it requires for food. The fern growers of the
District of Columbia have experienced much trouble in the treatment
of this species. Some have had good results, but others were not
able to cope with it with the remedies tried, and even found it diffi-
cult to control by the laborious method of hand picking. Finally,
however, the insect has yielded to this method, and at the time this
was written (February. 1913) it was not to be found except in one
greenhouse out of upward of a dozen inspected.



The moth (fig. 1) belongs to a group of noctuids in which the
forewings bear at the sides, above the middle.'a projecting area or
tooth. forming an outline as shown in the figure. The hind-wings
are rather broad and well rounded at. the sides. The thorax and
abdomen are wide. the latter especially so it1 the female. The color
of the forewings is pale brown, marked with white scales, forming
the peculiar and attractive pattern shown in the illustration. The
hind-legs are dull buff, edged with dusky brown; the lower surface
is paler.
The wing expanse is about 11 inch and the leng-th of the body
about half an inch.


Thle following description i.-> copied from Sir George F. Ham-
son's Catalogue of the Noctuidcr:'
9. Head and thorax greyish tinged with rufous :nil mixed with a few black
scales: palpi thickly irrorated with black: frons whitish with black bar above;
antennap with the extremity of basal joint, the basal part of shaft above and
below, and the shaft above beyond the sinus black: tegulhe mostly black, edged
with grey, with angled grey line near base and grey line at middle; fore and
mid tarsi black at extremities: abdomen ochreous tinged with fuscous, the
basil crests rufous, the crest on 3rd segment black. Forewing ochreous grey-
ish tinged with rufotus, the veins defined by slight blackish streaks; subbasal
line represented by doulile black stripe filled in with whitish from costa and

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cell and with double black qtriip before it from cell: anteuiedial line double,
filled in with whitish, angled outwards below costa. acutely angled outwards
on base of vein 2, then excurved. ai whitish striga before it from submedlan
fold to vein I1: orbicular with brown centre and whitish annulus. very narrow
and slightly angled outwards at median nervure: reniform whitish with white
bar on inner edge followed by a brown line. oblique, its lower extremity pro-
duced to n hook. a triangular brown patch before it extending to costa; RU
oblique brown line from beyond lower edge of cell to vein 1. then bent outwards
to inner margin; postniedial line double. brown. angled inwards below costa.
0* _


Pro. l --Florida f re caterpillar i l:w#pii i#,,r~denn,., :Muth aborte: si'iped larva ait left:
dark larva or riglil. E.nlaxrged. iOriginal, f

cell and with double black strike before it from cell: anteniedial line double,
filled in with whitish, angled outwardls below costa, acutely angled outwards
on base of vein 2, then excurred. a whitish striga before it from submedlan
fold to vein 1 : orbicular with brown centre and whitish annulus. very narrow
and slightly angled outwards at median nervure: reniform whitish with white
bar on inner edge followed by a brown line, oblique, its lower extremity pro-
duced to a hook. a triangular brown patch before it extending to costa; an
oblique brown line from beyond lower edge of cell to rein I. then bent outwards
to inner m~argin: IpOStuedial line double, brown, angled inwards below costa,

1 Cat. Noel. Brit. Mus, -ol. 7, pp. 548-549. London, 190N.


then bent outwards, slightly incurved at discal fold, oblique below vein 4 and
incurred ait subliedian fold: subtermiinal liue whitish, defined on inner side
by a triangular brown patch from costa to vein 6. angled iiinwa-irds above vein
5, then outwards to termen ati vein 4 ainld defined by til oblique blackish mark
on inner side. then indistinct, oblique, waved, with a sinuuii whitish line
before it; the teruien red-brown with white line before it slightly defined by
black on inner side. incurred from vein 7 to 4 where it angles outwards, then
waved; cilia red-brown with yellowish line at base. Hind wing ochreous whit-
ish tinged with red-brown especially on terminal area; a slight brown dis-
coidal bar; cilia whitish: the underside whitish, the costal area tinged with
ochreous and slightly irrorated with brown, a brown discoidal bar. postmedian
line bent outwards below cpsta, then crenulate. traces of a diffused subterminal
line, three small black spots on termen below apex defined by whitish on inner
9. Ground-color much darker red-brown.
The synonymy is as follows:
Eriopus floridensis (Guenee. Noct., vol. 2. p. 292 118521 ; SNmuitli. Cat. Noct.
N. Amer., p. 3(09.
Erinpus eleganlulu. Herrich-S'.-haeffer. Corresp.-Blatt. zool. min. Ver.
Regens. 1868. p. 117.
Cnlloiii.tria floruidlcn.-siN Guele f( aunt..


The larva (see fig. 1) is slender, with forelegs and prolegs normal
and well developed. The head is small, wider than long, greenish
in life, or pale yellow in inflated specimens, with thle V-mark strongly
marked. While this species is very variable in general color, there
is one characteristic mark which extends. transversely across the
anterior border of the thorax in a line and abruptly back-
ward under the spiracles to the second thoracic segment, and some-
times nearly to the anal segment. The thoracic plate is about twice
as wide as long, and not very strongly marked.
The general color varies from yellow to bright green to dark,
nearly black. In the palest form the thoracic border may extend
nearly to the third joint of the thorax and then cease, or reappear in
short, longitudinal dashes just below each spiracle. In the forms
which are a little darker these lines are more pronounced, and simi-
lar transverse dashes mark the dorsal surface of the last three ab-
dominal segments. In the more strongly marked form, shown in
the figure at the left, these transverse bands are of a maroon color
and very conspicuous. In most forms, and especially in the dark
ones, one of which is shown at the right in the figure, there is a
conspicuous longitudinal white line just above the stigmata or spira-
cles. This is almost, lacking in the entirely grown forms. These
two extreme color variants are so different that if observed sepa-
rately they would not naturally be associated with the same insect,
the last form presenting a decidedly velvety appearance.
The length is 1I inch (33 mm. ) and the width 0.2 inch (4I mm.).



The pupa is robust, of the usual shining mahogany-brown color,
the posterior apex ending in two minute outcurved spines. The i
wing-pads are prominent.
The length is five-eighths inch, and the width about half that.
The eggs and immature stages of the larva have not come under
The type locality is Florida. Hampson records also Mexico,
Guatemala, Costa Rica, Bahamas, Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, Santa
Lucia, St. Vincent, Venezuela, British Guiana, Brazil, and Trini-
dad. The species is also recorded from Santo Domingo. It is obvi-
ously a neotropical form and the only species of its genus occurring
in the United States.

July 10, 1907, this species was reported as a pest by Mr. H. M.
Russell (at that time working under the writer's direction), who
observed it at Orlando, Fla., attacking the fronds of potted maiden-
hair fern in that vicinity. It was noticed that the larvae usually
fed at night, although sometimes found feeding during the day.
They concealed themselves in the daytime at the base of the ferns
or were found resting low down on the stems, and they appeared to
have a habit of crawling utip the stems and eating off several leaflets
on one side, thus spoiling thle beauty of the plants. The larvm
observed began to transform to pupaew August 1.
During September of the same year Mr. Bartos, Mr. J. E. Watson,
and Mr. F. H. Kramer, of Anacotqa, D. C., made complaint that this
caterpillarr was injurious to several species of ferns in greenhouses.
On September 24 Mr. C. H. Popenoe, an entomological assistant in
this bureau, was detailed to obtain additional specimens and make
observations on the habits of the insect and the conditions of -the
greenhouses. Larve were obtained in different stages, chiefly between
half-grown and nearly grown specimens. They were feeding in the
afternoon on the utipper surface of the leaves. The usual method of
attack, as observed, consisted in biting off the midrib leaf one-half
to one-third the way up. Maidenhair or Adiantum ferns were at-
tacked either by biting off the leaflets at the tips of the fronds or
by. biting off the entire frond about 1 inch above the ground. The
majority of the larva' observed were resting either near the tip of
the frond of the midrib or else concealed in the stems at the base
of the plant. An entire house of Adiantum had been completely
stripped of the leave by the larva-, and one grower stated that his


fern crop had been damaged to the extent of $1,000. It was stated
that the larva would cut the plants entirely bare, and each new leaf
would be attacked by two or three larvae as soon as it appeared.
The same grower stated that these cutworms troubled his ferns the
previous year and that larvae, pupae, and images were seen through-
out that winter and preyed on the ferns the whole year.
July 3, 1908, Mr. J. E. Watson called at the office, requesting
methods for the control of this caterpillar. which was doing great
injury to some fern plants (Yephrolepis whitmani) in the green-
house. He estimated that damage to the extent of $4,000 had been
caused by the caterpillars during the previous year. During Sep-
tember Mr. Watson and Mr. Bartos made another complaint of this
species. Mr. Duder, another florist, also complained of the species.
A visit was made on September 28, 1908. and a number of larvae,
mostly full grown, some about to pupate, were secured.
The larva spins a loose cocoon by drawing together dead leaves and
particles of earth next to the ground. It sometimes draws together
green leaves to spin the cocoon. Though not strictly a nocturnal
feeder it shuns bright light and is most often found feeding exposed
in the early morning.
The moth is seldom seen by day and when aroused it usually flies
down under the benches to seclude itself. Thus many moths are
caught in spider webs that abound in dark corners in the greenhouses.
Since the ravages by this species were repeated in 1908 with even
greater loss than in 1907, two growers stated that unless some imme-
diate steps could be taken to check the pest the raising of ferns in
local greenhouses would be abandoned.
The caterpillars seem to do the greatest damage early in the year,
especially during May, but owinga to the uniformly warm temperature
of the greenhouses, winter as well -is summer, there is no time when
they are scarce enough to allow the ferns to put out a full head of
fronds. They attack the tender leaves, especially the growing tips
of young fronds, thus checking any attempt on the part of a plant to
replenish the dying fronds with a new growth, and so far stunting it
as to render it of no commercial value.
From larvae obtained in September the moths began to issue October
26, continuing to emerge until November 19. The pupal stage was
ascertained to be in three cases 23. 2.', and 27 days, respectively, in
cool October weather.
October 13. 1909, Mr. H. Walter McWilliams, Griffin. Ga., fur-
nished specimens of this caterpillar, found on ferns, and stated that
it cuts the fronds and injured the sale of the plants.
January 18. 1910, Mr. John J. Davis reported this species to be a
serious pest on greenhouse ferns in Illinois. It was first reported
Journ. Econ. Eut.. vol. 3, p. 183, 1910.


from Onarga, Ill., in 1907, and later from Chicago. Incidentally he
mentioned that Mr. A. H. Rosenfeld believed that the same species
occurred on ferns in Louisiana. In the twenty-seventh report of
the State entomologist of Illinois, dated 1912 and received by the
writer March 10, 1913, after the present bulletin had left his hands, an
article appears on this subject by Mr. Davis, who is now in the em-
ploy of this bureau. He mentions injury to ferns near Chicago, Ill.,
gives notes on life history, and adds descriptions of all forms, with
illustrations of larva, pupa, moth, and sexes. In remarks on remedies
he states what we have already learned, that arsenicals can not be
applied to ferns in sufficient strength to kill this so-called cutworm,
because they are apt to adhere to the surface in such a way as to make
it difficult, to handle the plants. Poisoned baits are also mentioned,
together with pyrethrum and nicotine preparations.
July -21. 1911, Dr. Thaddeus McLaughlin, Springfield, Ohio, fur-
nished specimens of this species, stating that it had destroyed some
fine ferns.
What appears to be the first record of the food habit of this species
was made in the Yearbook of the Department of Agriculture for
1908 (p. 578) and reads as follows:
The Florida fern caterpillar i Callopistria floridensis Guen.) has been injuri-
ous in local greenhouses, one florist reporting damage to his ferns to the extent
of $4,000.
Ichneunmon e:etrematis Cress.-This ichneumon fly, which is of
moderate size, black, lightly marked with white, was reared from a
pupa of the Florida fern caterpillar from Anacostia, D. C., Septem-
ber 20, 1907. It was seen in the act of issuing from a number of
pupal cases, showing a characteristic exit hole. This parasite and
two other species were seen flying about the infested greenhouses.
Sargarit.s sp.-This small ichneumonid parasite (Chttn. No.
21170) was reared from Eriop, s floridensis from Anacostia. D. C.,
September 30. 1907.
A tachinid fly attacks this species, a single specimen, unidentified,
having issued from the cocoon of its host August 22, 1907, at Orlando.
Many remedies were tried by the growers at Anacostia, some of
which were suggested by the writer and others by different persons
in the city of Washington. Naturally some of these, which were not
advised by entomologists, did not, produce the desired effect.
Hellebore.-September 20, 1907, one grower sprayed his entire crop
with a strong decoction of hellebore. This was successful in driving
away the larvae but it scalded the foliage of the ferns so badly that
many of the plants died. He was advised to use arsenate of lead.


Poisoned bait.-This same grower employed a bait of poisoned
bran and molasses, about as advised for cutworms, but without ma-
terial effect, the caterpillars preferring the ferns.
Carbon bisulphid.-Fumigation with carbon bisulphid was tried
by Mr. Watson in June, 1008, but he stated that it had been of no
avail in the destruction of this pest. In the same greenhouse, in
charge of Mr. Watson, strips of cloth were saturated with carbon
bisulphid and placed on the ground about the plants, but although
this remedy was sometimes successful it was not entirely reliable
since the caterpillars had necessarily to be where they would receive
the fumes if they were to succumb.
Hand picking.-The time-worn, laborious, but, if properly pursued,
effective remedy of combating the insect by hand measures was em-
ployed by numerous growers. One of these reported that the num-
bers of the caterpillar had been materially reduced by hand picking
and poisoning. Another grower made a practice of going over the
ferns every day and picking off all the caterpillar. that could be
seen, thus reducing the numbers of the pest in his greenhouse. It
seemed to be the consensus of opinion that the average grower would
obtain the best success by hand methods, one of the best, methods
consisting in shaking each individual plant over the ground and
trampling upon the caterpillars as they fall.
Arsenate of lead.-Arsenate of lead was advised, and an assistant
was detailed to an infested greenhouse where this remedy was em-
ployed, to determine the extent of injury and to advise measures for
the possible extermination of the cutworms. On his arrival he was
informed that several thousand had been hand picked from the ferns
a day or two before and that over 200 had been picked from a space
only 5 feet square. The plants had also been sprayed with arsenate
of lead at the rate of 2- pounds to 50 gallons of water, applied twice,
but, the final result was not reported. Some of the growers com-
plained that lead arsenate, when used in a solution strong enough to
kill the caterpillars, would at the same time leave a white deposit on
the plants which destroyed their commercial value. Owing to the
delicacy of ferns a spray of Paris green strong enough to kill the
caterpillars would also burn the foliage. Paris green, properly com-
bined with Bordeaux mixture, should not produce this effect.
Hydrocyanit-arid ga.s fumiyation.-Some of the local growers were
advised by the writer to fumigate with hydrocyanic-acid gas, but
it was not tried, so far a, can be learned. If fumigation by this
method were employed several times at about the time when the
insects are hatching from the egg. or undergoing their molts, it
should assist very materially in reducing the numbers, of the pest.

ADDITIONAL COPTES of this publication
may be procured from the SUPER NTEND-
ENT OV DOCUmENTS, Government Printing
Office, Washington, D. C., at b cents pdr copy

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