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Yellow Poplar Weevil

Insect eats holes in leaves of Magnolia, Sassafras & Tuliptree

By: Sandy Feather 2014
Penn State Extension


Q. I planted a sweetbay magnolia last spring, and it has grown well with no problems until this spring. I noticed that most of the leaves are riddled with small holes. I have looked and looked for any insects, but I cannot find anything. Do you have any idea what is the causing this or what I can do to stop it?

A. Yellow poplar weevil (Odontopus calceatus) is probably the culprit. Adult feeding creates numerous small holes that dot the leaf. Sometimes the damage is done while the leaf is still rolled up in the bud, so the resulting holes resemble a kind of origami. Weevils are just beetles with an elongated snout. Yellow poplar weevil adults are black-brown and grow about 3/16-inch long.
  

Sweetbay Magnolia bloom
Sweetbay Magnolia blossom

They overwinter in the leaf litter and duff around the base of host trees that include magnolias (Magnolia spp.), tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), and sassafras (Sassafras albidum). They become active on warm days in early spring, when they feed on buds and newly expanding leaves.

 


Life Cycle of Weevils

In late April or early May, tulip poplar weevils lay their eggs down the midribs of leaves, on the undersides. The larvae hatch quickly, and begin feeding as leafminers between the layers of the leaves. The larvae create a blotch-shaped mine at the tip, or apex, of the leaf. Yellow poplar larvae pupate inside the leaves, and hatch out as adults. The new adults feed from late June through late July, and move to their overwintering sites by mid-August. They will not cause any more damage until they resume feeding the following spring.

We have cyclical outbreaks of this pest, every three to five years or so. Their population is held in check most years by a number of parasitic wasps that attack the larvae and pupae while they are inside the leaves. Even when we have outbreaks, their damage is more cosmetic than life-threatening, and rarely warrants control in the landscape.


Mistaken for Ticks

Yellow poplar weevils generate many calls to Extension offices because people find them on their clothing and mistakenly think they are ticks. Ticks do not have antennae, and they cannot fly. Yellow poplar weevils do not bite people, nor do they transmit diseases to us.

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