Cabbage palm caterpillars, found throughout Florida, target the cabbage palmetto almost exclusively. They rarely kill palm trees but the insects do destroy the trees' blossoms. They are a nuisance to humans as well because they often enter homes looking for suitable places to pupate. Control by insecticides is possible under certain circumstance if carefully managed.
The cabbage palm caterpillar is a pinkish grub measuring about 1 1/2 inches (3.8 cm) at maturity with a skin covered with very small spines. The adult moth has a wingspan of around 2 inches (5 cm). It is tan in color with two dark spots on each wing.
Cabbage palm caterpillars are attracted to the blooms or inflorescences of cabbage palmettos. In a particularly heavy infestation, all a tree's buds can be eaten. After a caterpillar has finished its eating period, it spins a thread and lowers itself to the ground where it will search for a quiet place to pupate. In some instances, this means entering buildings, including homes. Once inside, the caterpillars have been know to cause considerable damage as they will chew and use fabrics to make cocoons.
Controlling the cabbage palm caterpillar on palmetto palms is difficult although the precise use of insecticides can be effective. Consult your local tree care specialist for advice. During heavy infestations, homeowners should take care to screen windows and seal cracks to prevent entry by the caterpillars.