Nettle Caterpillar


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Invasive Species

Nettle Caterpillar

Darna Pallivitta (Lepidoptera: Limacodidae)

They’re not on Maui yet, but Big Island and Oahu have them.

Specimens of a stinging nettle caterpillar were first found infesting a Rhapis palm at a nursery in Panaewa on the Big Island in September 2001. They were tentatively identified as Darna Pallivitta by D. Tsuda, University of Hawaii (UH) insect Diagnostic Clinic, and B. Kumashiro, Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) and confirmed by Dr. M. Epstein formerly with the Smithsonian Institution. This species occurs in Southeast Asia and is known to feed on palms (coconut and areca) and grasses (cock et al. 1987).


Nettle caterpillars grow to a maximum length of one inch and are covered with spines. A dark longitudinal stripe runs down the back of each caterpillar. The brownish cocoon is round and surrounded by a netting of silk. The adult moth is brown and is one-half inch in length.

Nettle Caterpillar


On the east side of the Big Island, the nettle caterpillar has been found as far north as Papaikou (Hilo District), west to Mountain View, and south to Hawaiian Beaches (Puna District). The spread of this caterpillar from the original Panaewa infestation may be due to natural dispersal or movement of infested plants. In 2006, isolated infestations of nettle caterpillar were found at Keahole and Hualalai (Kona District.) In February 2007, an infestation was found at Kohala (Kohala District.) These infestations on the west and north sides of the Big Island are likely due to the movement of plants infested with nettle caterpillars.

In June 2007, the nettle caterpillar was found at a nursery in central Oahu. This infestation was most likely due to the importation of plants from the Big Island. Efforts to control the nettle caterpillar on Oahu are being undertaken by nursery personnel HDOA, Oahu Invasive Species Committee (OISC), and the State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Collaborative activities include the application of insecticides to control caterpillars, intensive hand-removal of cocoons, and the use of electric bug-zappers to eliminate adult moths.

The information above was provided by Patrick Conant, Arnold H. Hara, Walter T. Nagamine, Chris M. Kishimoto, and Ronald A.Heu.

If you spot any Nettle Caterpillars please visit Hawaii Invasive Species Council or contact 1-808-643-PEST (7378).

See more Hawaii Invasive Species.