Forest Pest Insects in North America: a Photographic Guide

Palm leaf skeletonizer

Homaledra sabalella (Chambers) (Lepidoptera: Coleophoridae)

Orientation to pest

The palm leaf skeletonizer, Homaledra sabalella (Chambers), is a native moth that is an important pest of many species of palms in the southern United States. It is an important pest in Florida, where it sometimes causes serious damage to palm trees. An outbreak of what appeared to be this species occurred on coconut palms (Cocos nucifera L.) in Florida starting in about 1995 but curiously did not affect cabbage palmetto. While identical in appearance to the cabbage palmetto-feeding moth, the coconut palm-feeding population is perhaps an invasive cryptic species. The matter is under investigation. The following notes on life history are for the traditional species (the population found on cabbage palmetto). Female moths lay batches of, on average, 36 eggs glued to the surface of older palm leaves and covered with brown, papery material. The larvae mine in groups on both the upper and lower surfaces of older leaves, under webs of silk. Excrement from the larvae is deposited on top of the silk. Pupation takes place in the larval mines. There may be up to five generations per year, and there is no diapause. Cutting and burning infested leaves is an effective method of control.

Hosts commonly attacked

Palm leaf skeletonizer feeds on several species of palms, including Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis [Chabaud]) and cabbage palmetto (Sabal palmetto [Walter] Schultes and Schultes), the latter being an important native species in Florida. In Puerto Rico, the principal palm attacked is the Puerto Rico hat palm, Sabal causiarum (O. F. Cook) Becarri. This species also feeds on Latan palms (Latania spp.) and to a lesser extent on Washingtonia robusta H.Wendl.


This insect is found across the southern United States from Florida to California, this being the northern extension of its range, which lies principally in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola.

Images of palm leaf skeletonizer

Adult palm leaf skeletonizer Bo Zaremba - - Any further use of this image requires permission from Bo Zaremba each time. 768x512
Damage from feeding of larvae of the palm leaf skeletonizer Tim Borschat, 768x512 / 1536x1024
Figure 1. Adult palm leaf skeletonizer, Homaledra sabalella Figure 2. Damage from feeding of larvae of the palm leaf skeletonizer

Important biological control agents related to this pest species

An undescribed tachinid fly in the genus Phytomyptera was observed in Florida associated with the decline of serious outbreaks of this insect in the 1990s. In older records from Florida, larvae of the carabid beetle Plochionus amandus Newman and ants are listed as predators of this species. Also, listed are six species of hymenopterous parasitoids.

Web links for information on palm leaf skeletonizer