Roots, Shoots, Fruits & Flowers: Moth Caterpillars, Cuke Damage, Snake ID, and Ailing Vinca Bloom


Tersa sphinx moth. Photo: Janell Newton, Master Gardener, Dry Prong, LA

Moth Caterpillars

Janell, a Master Gardener from Dry Prong, LA, shared a picture of some caterpillars with large “eyes” and asked, “My cousin asked for help with identification on these guys... Do you know? Thanks!”

Ms. Victoria Bayless, curator of the Louisiana State Arthropod Museum (LSAM) identified this caterpillar as the juvenile form of the Tersa sphinx moth. Dr. James Baker, a retired entomologist with NC State Extension, made this note about the caterpillar’s appearance, “These caterpillars are snake mimics with a realistic pair of light-ringed eyespots on the first abdominal segment. Tersa sphinx caterpillars are variable in appearance. Some are pale green with pale eye spots whereas others may be dark with vivid eyespots. “ Dr. Baker lists the host plants of the Tersa sphinx moth, “Tersa sphinx moths visit Chinese violet, common milkweed, four O’ clocks, honeysuckle, and even prairie white fringed orchid for nectar. Their caterpillars feed on pentas as well as broadleaf buttonweed, candy corn vine, catalpa, firebush, and smooth buttonplant. They have also been reported from joe-pie weed.” The adult moth feeds on the nectar of the plants listed above.

Damaged cucumber.

A cucumber with damage from a beetle. Photo: Niki Wisby, Master Gardener, Leesville, LA

Cuke Damage

Niki, another Master Gardener, shared an image of a damaged cucumber with this note, “I was wondering if I might glean some insight from you. My cucumbers.. It looks like a leaf minor was munching on it, but I am still learning and not sure if that even happens. I searched [online] before I reached out but could not find anything. I am attaching a picture.”

AHA consulted with Dr. Raj Singh, the AgCenter’s “Plant Doctor” who suspected either a banded cucumber beetle or a spotted cucumber beetle. Niki responded to the diagnosis, “I have seen both of these exact insects….”

The 2023 Louisiana Insect Pest Management Guide lists these insecticides for treating cucumber beetles in the home garden:

  • Bifen®
  • Sevin®
  • Imidacloprid, various brands
  • Malathion 50% ®
  • Permethrin, various brands.

Black rat snake.

Black rat snake. Photo: Dennis Gibson.

Snake ID

Dennis sent an alarming email with an image, “Can you identify this snake. [I] found it in [my] bedroom. Thank you!”

AHA forwarded Dennis’ email to Ms. Cecilia “CC” Richmond, a professional biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) for her assistance. Richmond responded, “That is a Black Rat Snake, also called a Western Rat Snake (same species, 2 common names). I am attaching two websites with pictures and additional information. They can range from very patterned to completely black, so look more at the shape of the patterns on the side rather than the colors to verify the identification. Rat snakes are common around here and are quite common in barns, chicken coops, and other outdoor structures. It is common for them to get into houses, especially in rural areas (I have had one in mine, know several other folks that have also had them). They can bite, but they have no venom, so mostly they just scratch you a little (I have been bitten a few times - blackberry picking creates worse scratches for me!). They are a great snake to have around, as they do eat rodents, although it is never fun to find one in the house!

[I] hope the snake survived the encounter - they are rather docile creatures (I was catching them when I got bit)...”

Vinca flower.

A vinca flower infected with a phytoplasma. Photo: Wendy Normand.

Ailing Vinca Bloom

Wendy sent a picture of a strange looking flower and asked, “I have a 'green'vinca growing amongst my white ones, can you tell me what this one is called?”Dr. Sara Shields, an AgCenter specialist on ornamental plants, offered this thought this plant is infected with a “periwinkle phyllody phytoplasma.” The Agricultural Research Service of the USDA in a scientific article published this summary description of a phytoplasma, “Phytoplasmas are a large group of small bacteria that lack a cell wall. These bacteria occupy nutrition-transporting vessels of affected plants and, as a result, cause poor growth, commodity loss, reduced product quality, and even death of the host plants. Recently, new phytoplasmas associated with emerging diseases in diverse plants including periwinkle, coconut palm, and oil palm trees were identified in Malaysia.”

S.A. Hogenhout, in Encyclopedia of Microbiology (Third Edition), wrote, “Phytoplasmas are economically important plant pathogens that affect annual and perennial crops, bushes and fruit trees, ornamental trees, and natural floras worldwide. All phytoplasmas are transmitted by phloem-feeding insects, mostly leafhoppers, planthoppers, and psyllids.”

An extension website from California advises these treatments for phytoplasmas, “No chemicals are effective against phytoplasmas. Control these pathogens primarily through proper sanitation, excluding and controlling insect vectors, and using only pathogen-free stock. Remove infected plants that are a source of pathogens, including certain weeds.”

If you want to contact Roots, Shoots, Fruits, and Flowers, please send your questions and pictures to Keith Hawkins, Area Horticulture Agent (AHA), 337.284.5188 or

“Before you buy or use an insecticide product, first read the label, and strictly follow label recommendations. Mention of trade names or commercial products in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute endorsement by Louisiana State University AgCenter.”

“This work has been supported, in part, by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Renewable Resources Extension Act Award, Accession Number 1011417.”

6/27/2023 3:43:14 PM
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