Cotoneaster webber caterpillars

There are two species of moths with caterpillars that can cause extensive defoliation of Cotoneaster horizontalis. The moths have some additional host plants, including hawthorn but other cotoneasters are unaffected. The affected parts of the plant are covered in silk webbing produced by the caterpillars.

Cotoneaster webber caterpillar

Quick facts

Common names Hawthorn webber moth and porphyry knothorn moth
Latin names Scythropia crataegella and Numonia suavella
Plants affected Cotoneaster horizontalis; hawthorn webber also attacks hawthorn
Main symptoms Small brown caterpillars feed beneath silk webbing; foliage becomes brown and dries up
Caused by Caterpillars of two species of moths
Timing April-June and late July-August

What are cotoneaster webber caterpillars?

Cotoneaster webber caterpillars are the larval stages of two moths: the hawthorn webber and porphyry knothorn. The hawthorn webber moth is the species most often encountered. 



Affected plants will show the following symptoms:

  • The foliage becomes brown and dried up where small, dark brown caterpillars have grazed away the leaf surface, giving the impression that branches have died, however affected areas will usually produce another flush of leaves and recover
  • Hawthorn webber moth larvae cover their feeding area with extensive sheets of fine white silk webbing
  • Larvae of the porphyry knothorn moth live inside dense silk tunnels which incorporate leaf fragments and excrement pellets, this can be less obvious than the webbing of the hawthorn webber
  • Several other species of moth produce webbing as larvae but these are not found on cotoneaster, in gardens these include box tree caterpillar, brown tail moth and small ermine moths


Whilst the appearance of this insect can be alarming and almost all of the foliage can become covered in webbing and turn brown, the plants usually recover without treatment and so control is not necessary.

Non-pesticide control

Inspect plants for signs of webbing and damage in late spring and late summer. If the infestation is confined to a few shoots, these can be pruned out.

Pesticide control

  • Extensive infestations can be treated with an insecticide. Thorough spray coverage is required if control is to be achieved
  • Forceful spraying is needed to penetrate silk webbing
  • Organic contact insecticides containing natural pyrethrins (e.g. Bug Clear Gun for Fruit & Veg, Ecofective Bug Killer). Several applications of these short persistence products may be necessary to give good control
  • More persistent contact insecticides include the synthetic pyrethroids lambda-cyhalothrin (e.g. Westland Resolva Pest Killer), deltamethrin (e.g. Provanto Ultimate Fruit & Vegetable Bug Killer) and cypermethrin (e.g. Py Bug Killer)
  • The systemic neonicotinoid insecticide acetamiprid (e.g. Bug Clear Ultra) is also available
  • Follow label instructions when using pesticides
  • Plants in flower should not be sprayed due to the danger to pollinating insects
  • Inclusion of a pesticide product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener


Pesticides for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining pesticides available to gardeners).


The life cycles of hawthorn webber and porphyry knothorn moth are similar, with one generation a year:

  • Adult moths emerge and lay eggs in July-August
  • These hatch into dark brown caterpillars that cause some initial feeding damage and webbing before overwintering as young larvae
  • They resume feeding in late spring, when the webbing and damage becomes more extensive and noticeable
  • When fully fed in early summer, the caterpillars pupate within the silk webbing

Hawthorn webber moth caterpillars are 12-15mm long when fully grown and they produce extensive white silk webbing that covers their feeding area. Caterpillars of porphyry knothorn moth are a little larger and stouter than those of the hawthorn webber. They spin greyish-white silk tubes, which incorporate fragments of plant material, along the stems, so the webbing is less obvious that that produced by hawthorn webber caterpillars.

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