• Turf-masters University

Tropical Sod Webworm

Tropical sod webworm damage. Note how it's both less green and shorter than the rest of the lawn.

Photo: Steven Arthurs, UF/IFAS

There are quite a few pests and diseases that can damage your Florida lawn, and tropical sod webworm (Herpetogramma phaeopteralis) is one of those pests. While they prefer St. Augustinegrass, these very hungry caterpillars also munch on bermudagrass and zoysiagrass. They are most active from summer to fall in North Florida. We have seen and treated numerous lawns in the past several weeks.

You may notice the signs of their destruction in your lawn before you see these critters—they feed at night and rest during the day, curled up below the blades. Signs of damage include areas of ragged grass blades that are shorter than other areas of the grass, thinning of the lawn (fewer leaves), and eventually brown patchy areas. Many gardeners report that the damage to their lawn seems to have occurred overnight.

The moths of tropical sod webworms are another sign of these caterpillars in your landscape. These light tan-colored moths will flitter and scatter as you walk through the grass. But it's not the moths causing damage; it's their offspring—the caterpillars—damaging the turf. This larval stage is the most damaging of the tropical sod webworm’s life-cycle. Mature caterpillars are ¾ to 1 inch long and grayish-green. (Interesting fact: the caterpillars will appear greener the more grass they have eaten.)

As in so many things, the best way to address damage is to actively work to prevent it in the first place. A healthy, well-maintained lawn will be less susceptible to tropical sod webworm damage. You can help keep your lawn healthy by properly mowing and, if you choose to, irrigating and fertilizing correctly.

While being told to prevent damage is all well and good, that doesn’t help you if you are already dealing with a pest problem. You may read that in some cases your lawn will recover just fine from tropical sod webworm damage. That is true—as long as your lawn is not suffering from any other type of stress. However, in other cases your lawn may not return to its desired health. If you choose to treat your damaged lawn, be sure to verify that you are in fact dealing with tropical sod webworms. Then select a pesticide labeled for this particular pest; there are a number you can buy at your local garden store. You can use the proper pesticides to spot-treat the affected areas following label instructions or call us. We recommend treating the shrubs around your lawn areas as this is where most of the moths hide during the heat of the day. They seem to be very fond of azaleas. Again the moths do not damage the lawn directly but they do lay the eggs which become the voracious caterpillars.

Identifying tropical sod webworms…