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Very hungry caterpillars may be munching on your Tiki hut, UF experts say

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ORLANDO, Fla.Has your Tiki hut looked a little worse for wear lately? Caterpillars may be to blame, according to findings published by University of Florida experts.

Lyle Buss, senior biological scientist in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at UF, and Stephen Brown, horticulture agent with UF/IFAS Extension Lee County, co-authored the article “Caterpillar Pests of Tiki Huts and Other Thatched Structures," naming the fuzzy creatures as the culprits for tattered-looking thatched structures.

Tiki huts and Chickees commonly have roofs composed of thatch, a dried undecomposed plant material that attracts caterpillars. If the thatched roof of your outside wooden structure looks more dilapidated than usual, it may be a sign it’s been infested by the insects. You may also notice caterpillar droppings, or frass, between the leaf blades and under the roof, Bass said.

Hypsopygia nostralis, a snout moth, and Simplicia cornicalis, a litter moth, are the two species of caterpillars known to feed on the dried thatched leaves of the sabal palms often found in Tiki huts and Chickees. Both species have been nicknamed “Tiki hut caterpillars” for their association with palm thatch roofs. If the damage is bad enough, removal of part or all of an affected roof is sometimes necessary. Though the caterpillars are active throughout the year, the most damage is reported in July and August, said Buss.

Experts suggest homeowners apply chemical treatments to both sides of thatched palm leaves before assembling them on the roofs of Tiki huts or Chickees to repel caterpillars. If the roof has already been infested, experts suggest applying a Bacillus thuringiensis product or spinosad to the top of the roof when the caterpillars emerge during the evening. Re-infestation by Tiki hut caterpillars is unlikely once a roof is correctly controlled by a spray program.

“Always read and follow product label directions to ensure proper and safe use,” Buss said.

Click here to read the full article published by Buss and Brown.