Citrus Leaves Looking Bad: Asian Citrus Leaf Miner

There are many reasons to love gardening along the Texas Gulf Coast, one being the ability to successfully grow a variety of citrus trees in our landscape. Urban gardeners to small-scale orchard operators in Galveston County have natural resources of temperate weather and access to full sun to entice sun-colored fragrant fruit from their trees.

Citrus is a general term for fruit that includes the familiar lemon, key and persian lime, the unusual thick-skinned citron, the delectable sweet orange, easy to peel tangerine, huge pomelo, grape-sized kumquat and our beloved grapefruit. Citrus species have their origins in southeast Asia, including south Vietnam, south China and India. Global trade routes via European western expansion eventually brought this precious commodity to be cultivated along the Texas Gulf Coast starting in the 1880’s. It is estimated that approximately 27,000 acres of citrus are now grown in South Texas in the Lower Rio Grande Valley region.

Image courtesy Harris County AgriLife Extension

Since there is a wealth of information regarding citrus production, variety availability and horticultural management, I wish to focus on several inquiries I recently received and related to citrus plant health. A few concerned homeowners witnessed damage to their citrus foliage, reporting black and silver-colored trails on the top of curling and disfigured leaves. One homeowner sent me a great picture of foliar damage to help identify the culprit. I concluded that the leaf damage is due to activity of the Asian Citrus Leaf Miner (Phyllocnistis citrella), a species of moth originating from India to the Phillipines and detected in southern United States in the mid-1990’s. The moth is small and light colored, mostly found active March through October in the Texas Upper Gulf Coast Bend. Regarding life cycle, the female adult will lay eggs on the underside of newly growing leaves in the evening or late night. Larvae hatch and burrow into the leaf, mining as they feed through the leaf tissue. We see the damage as a silver-colored trail along the leaf surface. The larvae proceed through 4 instars (stages of development) and take up to 20 days to form pupae (think of a butterfly cocoon). Right before pupae development, the larvae proceeds toward the margin of the leaf, emerges and rolls the leaf around itself to develop into the adult, causing the leaf to distort and curl. The life cycle can take from 2 to 7 weeks to complete.

While the damage looks unsightly, moth activity is found not to reduce citrus plant health or productivity on mature trees. Damage to trees aged from one to four years may warrant control of this insect and depending on the severity. There are a number of predatory species that feed on the miner at the larval stage, and best management practice involves least toxic intervention on our part to encourage a more natural control. If you do decide to use a control method that should include general plant maintenance, best management practice involves application of horticultural oil in cooler months; keep in mind that oils used in horticultural application can damage leaves when we begin to sustain temperatures in the mid-80’s. If you have a heavy infestation of Asian Citrus Leaf Miner and have determined that they are affecting the health of your tree, chemical control recommendation is for the use of products containing Spinosad, a chemical compound derived from a family of soil bacterium and attacking the nervous system of the insect. While this chemical is a least toxic alternative, it is a broad-spectrum control and I encourage you to limit application of chemical control to continue to encourage natural predators of the moth. More information regarding citrus and related fruit production and management can be found online at the Texas Aggie Horticulture website:

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