New Invasive Pest to Watch for in Florida Citrus

Josh McGillPests

By Maegan Beatty

An invasive butterfly that seriously damages citrus trees has been spotted in Florida. The lime swallowtail (Papilio demoleus) is an invasive species from Asia that has harmed citrus trees in the Caribbean for almost 20 years. The butterfly has a wingspan of nearly 4 inches with black and white marks across the wings and a red-orange dot at the base.

Lime swallowtail third instar larva (Photo by K. M. Burnette, FDACS Division of Plant Industry)

Last fall, the butterfly caused significant damage in Key West by consuming citrus foliage and exposing the fruit to too much sunlight. This weakens the trees and causes fruit loss.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) has stepped in and confirmed the destructive butterfly species through DNA sequencing. Trevor Smith, plant industry director for FDACS, stated that there have been no other signs of the insect in the middle or upper Keys. The agency has issued a pest alert for the butterfly.

The lime swallowtail causes significant damage during its larval stages. Early larval stages appear as bird droppings, but they later become larger and green. It is during these stages that the pest feeds on citrus foliage, leaving the fruit exposed to the sun. This is what causes the most harm to the trees.

However, according to Lauren Diepenbrock, an entomologist at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the lime swallowtail does not seem to be a huge threat to the citrus industry as a whole. She encourages residents in Key West to be on the lookout for the pest.

“The population is low and manageable if people check their trees and remove the caterpillars when they find them,” Diepenbrock said. She is currently collaborating with FDACS to find out more information.

So how did the lime swallowtail get to Florida? Smith suspects that these butterflies traveled to Florida through Hurricane Ian.

If you believe you have spotted this pest, collect the larvae, place it in a jar, put it in the freezer and contact FDACS immediately.

Maegan Beatty is an AgNet Media intern.

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