San Diego Floral Association
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Friend or Foe: Bougainvillea Looper
Reprinted from: May/June 2008, Volume 99, Number 3
San Diego is a county full of transplants. In the summer of 2006, a particularly tiny transplant was discovered along the coast, a transplant that is giving gardeners fond of bougainvilleas new reasons to lose sleep.
The bougainvillea looper (Disclisioprocta stellata) is a one-inch long, green or brown, smooth-skinned caterpillar. You may know loopers as “inchworms,” for their distinctive contract/expand mode of transportation; indeed, a “looper” is a worm that makes a raised loop with its midsection as it crawls. The bougainvillea looper grows to become a Geometrid moth called the Somber Carpet Moth. The moth doesn’t feed on bougainvilleas, but does lay its eggs on the underside of leaves.
The eggs hatch into larvae (loopers), which feed on bougainvillea and other plants in the Nyctaginaceae, or Four O’Clock, family. The caterpillars tend to favor new shoots and leaves, eating from the edge of the leaf in and creating a scalloped effect, though mature leaves are not safe from hungry maturing caterpillars. Bougainvillea Loopers have been
known to decimate entire shrubs. Rest assured, that while the damage is severe, it’s cosmetic; the little loopers won’t kill your plant, just make you ashamed to show it off to friends.
As mimics, loopers may be mistaken for a branch or stem at first glance. They feed at night. Young loopers can be controlled with regular doses of BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), though some mature loopers may be resistant; spray in the evening, when they’re most active. The brave of heart can search for the caterpillars with a flashlight after dark. The squeamish can set up a birdfeeder nearby and hope feathered friends pitch in on pest control.
Keep an eye out for the bougainvillea looper as we head into the warm summer months, as these caterpillars are especially destructive from June through September. If you find any, and wish to help the county keep track of the caterpillar’s spread, please call the County, Agriculture, Weights and Measures Entomology Lap at 858-694-3897 or visit their website at www.sdcawm.org. —Amy R. Wood
Mission: To promote the knowledge and appreciation of horticulture and floriculture in the San Diego region.