Cactoblastis cactorum (cactus moth)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Distribution Table
- Habitat List
- Host Plants and Other Plants Affected
- List of Symptoms/Signs
- Biology and Ecology
- Natural enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Pathway Vectors
- Plant Trade
- Impact Summary
- Threatened Species
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Cactoblastis cactorum Berg
Preferred Common Name
- cactus moth
Other Scientific Names
- Zophodia cactorum Berg
International Common Names
- English: prickly pear moth; prickly pear phycitid
Local Common Names
- Germany: Bohrer, Kakteen-
- CACTCA (Cactoblastis cactorum)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
The prickly pear moth (Cactoblastis cactorum) is a moth that preys specifically on cactus species. It has been introduced in various locations around the globe to provide biological control of invasive cacti species and has proved itself as a successful biocontrol agent in Australia, South Africa and some Caribbean islands. However, from the Caribbean it spread into Florida and has attacked non-target cacti species. It is feared that it will cause large scale losses of native cacti diversity in North America and possibly have a large economic, social and ecological impact in Opuntia rich areas of southwestern USA and Mexico.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Metazoa
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Subphylum: Uniramia
- Class: Insecta
- Order: Lepidoptera
- Family: Pyralidae
- Genus: Cactoblastis
- Species: Cactoblastis cactorum
DescriptionTop of page
Females of Cactoblastis cactorum have a wingspan of 27-40mm, whilst male wingspan is slightly smaller (23-32mm). The adult is fawn with faint dark dots and lines on the wings. It normally rests with its wings wrapped around its body. The forewings are greyish brown but whiter toward the costal margin. Distinct black antemedial and subterminal lines are present. Hindwings are white, semihyaline at base, smoky brown on outer half with a dark line along the posterior margin. The average longevity of the adult is 9 days. The incubation period of eggs depends on temperature; the shortest time being 18 days. The eggs usually hatch in 23-28 days. Larvae are gregarious in nature, initially pinkish cream coloured, with black red dots on the back of each segment. Later instars become orange and the dots coalesce to become a dark band across each segment reaching up to 1.5cm. The pupa is enclosed in a fine white silk cocoon which consists of a loose outer covering and a more compact inner cocoon. Pupation sites are usually found among debris of rotting cladodes under stones, logs, bark and just beneath the surface of the soil. The average length of the pupal period is 21-28 days. (Jordan Golubov., pers. comm., 2005).
DistributionTop of page
Native range: South America (Zimmermann et al. 2000). Northern provinces of Argentina (Entre Rios, Corrientes, Santa Fe, northern portion of Cordoba, Santiago del Estero, Tucuman, Salta, Jujuy and the Chaco), in Uruguay (along the Uruguay and Plata Rivers from Piriapolis in the south and north to Salta) and Paraguay (Villa de Concepcion and vicinities of Asuncion), also in the southern portions of Brazil (Matto Grosso at Corumba but may include Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina). (Jordan Golubov., pers. comm., 2005)
Known introduced range: Africa, Asia, Australasia-Pacific region and North America (Stiling, 2002). After its earlier success as a biocontrol agent in Australia and South Africa, it was introduced into the Caribbean in 1957 to manage weedy native cactus species. The moth gradually spread throughout the Caribbean Islands and was first detected in south Florida on Big Pine Key in 1989 (Bloem and Bloem, 2012).
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 12 May 2022
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Kenya||Absent, Formerly present|
|India||Absent, Unconfirmed presence record(s)|
|Pakistan||Absent, Unconfirmed presence record(s)|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Present|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|United States||Present, Localized|
|-New South Wales||Present|
HabitatTop of page
Cactoblastis cactorum require Opuntia cacti species to lay their eggs upon.
Habitat ListTop of page
|Other||Host||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
Host Plants and Other Plants AffectedTop of page
|Opuntia aurantiaca (jointed cactus)||Cactaceae||Unknown|
|Opuntia ficus-indica (prickly pear)||Cactaceae||Unknown|
|Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear)||Cactaceae||Unknown|
List of Symptoms/SignsTop of page
|Stems / internal feeding|
|Stems / rot|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
On hatching, all larvae from one eggstick enter the plant at one point. They tunnel freely within the cladodes, consuming the whole of the interior except the vascular bundles and leaving the undamaged cuticle as a transparent tissue. Burrowing activity usually causes secondary bacterial activity which hastens the destruction of cladodes. When one cladode has been eaten or decayed, the larvae may penetrate into the next segment. During this process the colony usually divides into two or more groups. Adults have no functional mouthparts and emerge only to reproduce (Jordan Golubov., pers. comm., 2005).
Oviposition is normally at dusk or early dawn and may be responding to carbon dioxide concentrations around pads (Stange, 1997; Stange et al 1995). The number of eggs in a stick varies greatly but the average contain from 76-90 eggs. Each female can deposit several eggsticks; 3-4 but can frequently lay 8-12. In Australia, mating takes place during the early morning hours and copulation has never been documented at night, or after 2100hrs. Adults normally remain inactive during daylight hours. In South Africa, sexual activity is found on the first and second night after adult emergence. In Florida, peak periods of sexual activity begin between nautical and civil twilight and ends before sunrise (for a detailed behavioural sequence of sexual activity see Hight et al. 2003)
When fully grown the larvae exit the cladodes and individually drop to the ground and find pupation sites, usually in the debris of rotting cladodes (Jordan Golubov., pers. comm., 2005).
Natural enemiesTop of page
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
Introduction pathways to new locations
Biological control:Cactoblastis cactorum was introduced to St Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat in the Caribbean (Pemberton, 1995).
Natural dispersal:Cactoblastis cactorum in the Florida Keys may have been the result of the moth naturally dispersing across the Caribbean, or it may have been introduced unintentionally on horticultural prickly pear cacti imported into Florida (Solis et al. 2004)
Nursery trade:Cactoblastis cactorum in the Florida Keys may have been the result of the moth naturally dispersing across the Caribbean, or it may have been introduced unintentionally on horticultural prickly pear cacti imported into Florida (Solis et al. 2004)
Local dispersal methods
Natural dispersal (local)
Pathway CausesTop of page
Plant TradeTop of page
|Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transport||Pest stages||Borne internally||Borne externally||Visibility of pest or symptoms|
|Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches||arthropods/eggs; arthropods/larvae||Yes||Pest or symptoms usually visible to the naked eye|
|Plant parts not known to carry the pest in trade/transport|
|True seeds (inc. grain)|
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Environment (generally)||Positive and negative|
ImpactTop of page
Cactoblastis cactorum threatens Opuntia species both native and cultivated. Opuntia species are important in subsistence and commercial agriculture. They also have ecological importance – they can prevent desertification and promote reforestation in arid areas through their ability to survive scarce or erratic rainfall and high temperatures (IAEA, 2002). There is concern that C. cactorum will invade the cactus-rich desert areas of South-Western USA and Mexico. Nearly all Opuntia are at risk of attack by C. cactorum; Cylindropuntia or ‘chollas’ (once included in the genus Opuntia but now seen as taxonomically separate) are not preferred hosts (Bloem and Bloem, 2012).
Stiling (2002) states that, "Cactoblastis cactorum oviposits by gluing sticks of about 50-90 eggs on cactus spines. The gregarious larvae bore into the pads or cladodes, devouring them from the inside. About four pads are needed for the development of the larvae from a complete egg stick." The authors also report that, "There are at least 31 species of prickly pear in the US that are likely to be attacked by C. cactorum and 56 species in Mexico. As well as the threat to wild cacti, there are over 250,000ha of Opuntia plantations in Mexico that support a thriving agricultural industry, most of which is centred on harvesting fruits or pads."
In a study of Opuntia along the west coast of Florida, overall survival of cacti over a 6-year period was found to be high (~75%). Nevertheless, juvenile mortality is thought to be high and C. cactorum should still be considered a threat to Opuntia in the USA and Mexico, particularly for rare opuntioids (Jezorek et al., 2012; Stiling and Moon, 2001). For example C. cactorum threatens the rare cactus O. corallicola, known from just a few islands in Florida (Stiling, 2010; Stiling and Moon, 2001).
Threatened SpeciesTop of page
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Negatively impacts livelihoods
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Pest and disease transmission
UsesTop of page
Cactoblastis cactorum is a voracious feeder on cacti in the genus Opuntia (prickly pear cacti) and is an example of a successful weed biological control programme. It was introduced from Argentina into Australia in the mid 1920's for the biological control of invasive and non-native Opuntia. C. cactorum was then intentionally spread from Australia into other countries with prickly pear problems (Solis et al. 2004).
Uses ListTop of page
- Biological control
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
Cactoblatis cactorum are in the subfamily Phycitinae (family Pyralidae). Phycitine adults are often similar to each other; however, genitalia can provide positive identification (Habeck and Bennet, 2002, Heinrich, 1939).
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
BibliographyTop of page
References from GISD
Bloem, S., Hight, S., Carpenter, J and Bloem, K., 2005. Development of the Most Effective Trap to Monitor the Geographical Expansion of the Cactus Moth Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) (Submitted to: Florida Entomologist) http://www.ars.usda.gov/research/publications/publications.htm?SEQ_NO_115=173010
CONABIO. 2008. Sistema de información sobre especies invasoras en México. Especies invasoras - Insectos. Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad. Fecha de acceso. http://www.conabio.gob.mx/invasoras/index.php/Especies_invasoras_-_Insectos
Dodd, A. P. 1940. The biological campaign against prickly pear. Commonwealth Prickly Pear Board, Brisbane, Australia.
Evans, D. H., and S. Crossley. 2004. Cactoblastis cactorum (Berg, 1885) (previously known as : Zophodia cactorum) Prickly Pear Moth Phycitini, Phycitinae. Australian Caterpillars.
Florida Entomologist December 2001 (vol. 84, no. 4, pages 465-751) http://www.fcla.edu/FlaEnt/fe844.htm
Habeck, D. H., and K. A. Bennett. 2002. Cactoblastis cactorum (Berg) (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Pyralidae). Featured Creatures: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Heinrich, C. 1939. The cactus feeding Phycitinae: a contribution toward a revision of the American Pyralidoid moths of the family Phycitidae. Proceedings of the National Museum Smithsonian Institution 86: 331-413.
Hight, S. D., J. E. Carpenter, K. A. Bloem, S. Bloem, R. W. Pemberton, and P. Stiling. 2002. Expanding Geographic Range of Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) In North America. Florida Entomologist 85(3): 527-529.
Hight, S. D., S. Bloem, K. A. Bloem, and J. A. Carpenter. 2003. Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae): observations of courtship and mating behaviors at two locations on the Gulf coast of Florida. Florida Entomologist 86: 400-408.
Hight, S., Carpenter, J., Bloem, S and Bloem, K., 2005. Developing a Sterile Insect Release Program for Cactoblastis cactorum (BERG.) (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae): Effective Overflooding Rations and Release-Recapture Field Studies (Submitted to: Environmental Entomology) http://www.ars.usda.gov/research/publications/publications.htm?SEQ_NO_115=170145
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)., 2002. Mitigating the Threat of Cactoblastis cactorum to International Agriculture and Ecological Systems and Biodiversity: Report and Recommendations of a Consultants’ Group Meeting organized by the Technical Co-operation Department of the IAEA and the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Applications in Food and Agriculture, Vienna, Austria, July 2002. http://tc.iaea.org/tcweb/abouttc/strategy/thematic/pdf/reports/Thematic_plan_cactus.pdf
Johnson, D. M, and D. S. Stiling. 1998. Distribution and dispersal of Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae), and exotic opuntia-feeding moth. Florida Entomologist 81(1): 12-21.
Leibee, G. L., and L. S. Osborne. 2001. Chemical control of Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae). Florida Entomologist 84(4): 510-513.
Mahr, D. L. 2001. Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) in Noth America. A Workshop of Assessment and Planning. Florida Entomologist 84(4): 465-474.
Mann, J. 1969. Cactus feeding insects and mites. Bulletin 256. Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington D. C., USA
Mellink, E., and M. Rojas-Lopez. 2002. Consumption of Platyopuntias by wild vertebrates. In P. Nobel (ed) Cacti: Biology and Uses. Island Press, pages 109-123. California, USA.
Pemberton, R. W. 1995. Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera:Pyralidae) in the United States. An Immigrant biological control agent or an introduction of the nursery industry. American Entomology 41: 230-232.
Pemberton, R. W., and H. A. Cordo. 2001. Potential and risks of biological control of Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) In North America. Florida Entomologist 84(4).
Pettey, F. W. 1948. The biological control of prickly pear in South Africa. Sci. Bull. Dept of Agri. Union of South Africa 271: 1-163.
Robertson, H. G. 1988. Spatial and temporal patterns of predation by ants on eggs of Cactoblastis cactorum. Ecological Entomology 13: 207-214.
Soberon, J., J. Golubov, and J. Sarukhan. 2001. The Importance of Opuntia in Mexico and routes of invasion and impact of Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae). Florida Entomologist 84(4).
Solis, M. A., D. H. Stemphen, and D. R. Gordon. 2004. Tracking the Cactus Moth, Cactoblastis cactorum Berg., as it flies and eats its way westward in the U.S. News of the Lepidopterists' Society.
Stange, G. 1997. Effects of changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide on the location of host by the moth Cactoblastis cactorum. Oecologia 110: 539-545.
Stange, G., Monro, J., Stowe, S., and Osmond, C. B. 1995. the CO2 sense of the moth Cactoblastis cactorum and its probable role in the biological control of the CAM plant Opuntia stricta. Oecologia 102: 341-352
Stiling, P. 2002. Potential non-target effects of a biological control agent, prickly pear moth, Cactoblastis cactorum (Berg) (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae), in North America, and possible management actions. Biological Invasions 4: 273-281, 2002.
Varnham, K. 2006. Non-native species in UK Overseas Territories: a review. JNCC Report 372. Peterborough: United Kingdom. http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-3660
Zimmermann, H. G.; V. C. Moran; J. H. Hoffmann., 2000. The renowned Cactus Moth, Cactoblastis cactorum: Its Natural History and Threat to Native Opuntia floras in Mexico and the United States of America. Diversity and Distributions, Vol. 6, No. 5. (Sep., 2000), pp. 259-269.
ReferencesTop of page
Bloem K, Bloem S, 2012. Cactoblastis cactorum in the USA: a general overview and history. http://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/plant_pest_info/cactoblastis/downloads/conference/abstracts/bloem-abstract_eng.pdf
Briano J, Varone L, Logarzo G, Villamil C, 2012. Extended geographical distribution and host range of the cactus moth, Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae), in Argentina. Florida Entomologist, 95(1):233-237. http://www.fcla.edu/FlaEnt/
EPPO, 2014. PQR database. Paris, France: European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization. http://www.eppo.int/DATABASES/pqr/pqr.htm
Jezorek H, Baker AJ, Stiling P, 2012. Effects of Cactoblastis cactorum on the survival and growth of North American Opuntia. Biological Invasions,. DOI: 10.1007/s10530-012-0234-9
Johnson, D. M., Stiling, P. D., 1998. Distribution and dispersal of Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae), an exotic Opuntia-feeding moth, in Florida. Florida Entomologist, 81(1), 12-22. doi: 10.2307/3495992
Marsico TD, Wallace LE, Ervin GN, Brooks CP, McClure JE, Welch ME, 2011. Geographic patterns of genetic diversity from the native range of Cactoblastis cactorum (Berg) support the documented history of invasion and multiple introductions for invasive populations. Biological Invasions, 13(4):857-868. http://www.springerlink.com/content/un887u59v4q87034/
Paraiso O, Hight SD, Kairo MTK, Bloem S, 2011. Egg parasitoids attacking Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) in North Florida. Florida Entomologist, 94(1):81-90. http://www.fcla.edu/FlaEnt/
Pemberton, R. W., Cordo, H. A., 2001. Nosema (Microsporida: Nosematidae) species as potential biological control agents of Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae): surveys for the Microsporidia in Argentina and South Africa. Florida Entomologist, 84(4), 527-530. doi: 10.2307/3496383
Stiling P, Moon DC, 2001. Protecting rare Florida cacti from attack by the exotic cactus moth, Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae). Florida Entomologist [Cactoblastis cactorum in North America: proceedings of a workshop for assessment and planning -- 2000, held Tampa, Florida, USA, September 2000.], 84(4):506-509
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Johnson D M, Stiling P D, 1998. Distribution and dispersal of Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae), an exotic Opuntia-feeding moth, in Florida. Florida Entomologist. 81 (1), 12-22. DOI:10.2307/3495992
Pemberton R W, Cordo H A, 2001. Nosema (Microsporida: Nosematidae) species as potential biological control agents of Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae): surveys for the Microsporidia in Argentina and South Africa. Florida Entomologist. 84 (4), 527-530. DOI:10.2307/3496383
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Stiling P, Moon D C, 2001. Protecting rare Florida cacti from attack by the exotic cactus moth, Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae). Florida Entomologist. 84 (4), 506-509. DOI:10.2307/3496380
USDA, 2008. Quarantine for the South American Cactus Moth, Cactoblastis cactorum, in Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. In: Environmental Assessment October 2008,
ContributorsTop of page
Reviewed by: Dr. Jordan K. Golubov Profesor-Investigador Titular C Lab. Sistematica y Ecologia Vegetal Departamento El Hombre y Su Ambiente Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana -- Xochimilco Mexico
Principal sources: Stiling, 2002. Potential non-target effects of a biological control agent, prickly pear moth, Cactoblastis cactorum (Berg) (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae), in North America, and possible management actions. Biological Invasions 4: 273-281
Distribution MapsTop of page
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