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Azalea Leafminer

Natasha Wright, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bugwood.org
Caloptilia azaleella  
Adult azalea leafminers are small, yellow moths with purplish markings on the wings. The wingspan is about 1/2 inch.

The leaf-mining stage is a yellowish caterpillar about 1/2 inch long. It has three pairs of prolegs found on the abdominal segments three, four and five. The proleg hooks (crochets) are singly arranged in a U-shaped pattern with a series of crochets within the U.

The azalea leafminer is found in most states where azaleas are grown, and azaleas are the only known host for this insect. The leafminer larva has less effect on plants grown outdoors, but it may do considerable damage to cuttings in the greenhouse or sometimes outdoors in more southern states such as Georgia and Florida. Mining within the leaf, the young larva causes the formation of brown blisters on the leaf surfaces. As the larva matures, it emerges from within the leaf tissue and rolls the edge of a leaf around itself for protection, while feeding on the leaf surface. Seriously injured leaves usually turn yellow and drop, thereby causing an unsightly plant.

Eggs are deposited singly on the undersides of leaves along the midribs, usually one to five per leaf. The young (larvae) hatch in about 4 days, mine into the leaves, and feed inside them. At this stage, the leaves appear to have blisters. If a leaf is held up to the light, the larvae can be seen inside. When about one-third grown, the larva emerges, moves to the tip of a new leaf and rolls it up for the protection while feeding and growing. When nearly grown, the larva rolls up the margin of the leaf and spins a cocoon inside. The moth emerges from the cocoon, mates and deposits eggs for another generation. Under greenhouse conditions, the larvae may be found at any time during the year. The insect overwinters outdoors as a larva or pupa. Adults appear and females lay eggs about the time plants bloom in the spring.

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