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Pelopidas thrax (Linnaeus)
Ronald F.L. Mau, Extension Entomologist
Jayma L. Martin Kessing, Educational Specialsit
Department of Entomology
The major host of the banana skipper is banana. Other recorded hosts include bamboo, Manila hemp, coconut, and other palms besides banana. Additional hosts recorded in Hawaii are Canna, Strelitzia, and Heliconia species.
This caterpillar is a notorious pest of bananas in South and East Asia, Indonesia, the Philippine Islands and Guam (Davis and Kawamura, 1975). It was first reported in Hawaii on Oahu in 1973 and by 1975, it was present on all major islands.
Larvae cut and roll the host leaf from the tip along the midvein, forming a tunnel, and feed within this shelter. The larvae feed from one edge of the leaf and make another roll in the leaf as fresh food is needed (Corbet and Pendlebury, 1956). The tunnel is dusted with a white waxy powder produced by the caterpillars. The rolled up leaves are often seen hanging in large numbers from the mid rib of the banana leaf (Dammerman, 1929).
The bright yellow to orange-red eggs, that later turn yellow, are deposited singly on the lower surface of leaves. Occasionally they occur in clusters. Eggs hatch in 5 to 8 days.
The newly hatched larvae are grayish-green but become pale green in later larval stages (instars). The larvae are covered with short silky hairs and a white powdery substance, which is presumably a waste product of its metabolism (Corbet and Pendlebury, 1956). A strong constriction defines its dark brown-black head from its thorax. Larvae are about 2 inches long at maturity. The larval period lasts for 25 to 30 days.
The light brown pupae are long and slender and also covered with the white powdery substance. Pupation occurs within the confines of the rolled host leaf. Adult moths emerge in 10 days.
The adult moths, like other moths belonging to the Hesperiidae family, are characterized by their large head and clubbed antennae with a recurved tip (Dammerman, 1929). The forewings of this moth are dark brown with three prominent translucent-yellow patches and measure about 3 inches (75 mm) in wingspan. The hindwings are dark brown.
Caterpillars are nocturnal and hide in the fold of the leaf during the day. Pupae are very sensitive to movement and will wriggle violently if disturbed (Corbet and Pendlebury, 1956). Adults may be seen flitting about flowers at twilight and are occasionally attracted to light.
In 1973, the egg parasite, Ooencyrtus erionatae Ferriere, from Guam and the larval parasite, Apanteles erionatae Wilkinson, from Thailand were introduced to Hawaii to biologically control the banana skipper (Nakao et al., 1975). Life history studies of these two parasites are presented by Mau et al. (1980). They have proven to be successful biological control introductions by providing a high degree of control and are responsible for preventing serious damage to many banana plantations throughout the State (Mau et al., 1980).
In 1974, the larval parasite, Scenocharops spp. was introduced from Malaysia to supplement the work of the other two introduced parasites (Nakao and Funasaki, 1976) but did not become established.
Four additional parasites have been found in Hawaii. They are the egg parasites, Anastatus spp. (Euphelmidae) and Trichogramma spp. (Trichogrammatidae), and the larvae and pupal parasites, Ecthromorpha fuscator Fabricius (Ichneumonidae) and Brachymeria obscurata (Walker) (Chalcididae) (Mau et al., 1980), respectively. These four parasites contribute to the biological control of the banana skipper but exhibit less control than the first two introduced parasites.
Control by natural enemies usually eliminates the need for chemical treatment against this pest.
Corbet, A.S. and H.M. Pendlebury. 1956. Erionota thrax (Linnaeus).
pp. 411-412. In: The Butterflies of the Malaya Peninsula, Second Edition (N.D. Riley ed.). Oliver & Boyd; Edinburgh, London. 537 pages; 55 plates.
Dammerman, K.W. 1929. The Agricultural Zoology of the Malay Archipelago. J.H. DeBussy Ltd. Amsterdam. 473 pages.
Davis, C.J. and K. Kawamura. 1975. Notes and exhibitions: Erionota thrax L. Proc. Hawaiian Entomol. Soc. 22(1): 21.
Kawamura, K.P. 1973. Internal Report, State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture.
Mau, R.F.L., K. Murai, B. Kumashiro and K. Teramoto. 1980. Biological Control of the Banana Skipper, Pelopidas thrax (Linnaeus), (Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae) in Hawaii. Proc. Hawaiian Entomol. Soc. 23(2): 231-238.
Nakao, H.K., G.Y. Funasaki and C.J. Davis. 1975. Introductions for Biological Control in Hawaii, 1973. Proc. Hawaiian Entomol. Soc.
Nakao, H.K. and G.Y. Funasaki. 1976. Introductions for Biological Control in Hawaii, 1974. Proc. Hawaiian Entomol. Soc. 22(2): 329-331.