Tortrix moth caterpillars

Two species of tortrix moth caterpillars are often found in gardens and indoors where they bind leaves together with silky threads they can also damage fruits.

Tortrix moth caterpillar on <i>Photinia</i>
Tortrix moth caterpillar on Photinia

Quick facts

Common name Carnation tortrix and light brown apple moths
Scientific name Cacoecimorpha pronubana and Epiphyas postvittana
Plants affected Many edible and ornamental plants both indoors and outdoors
Main symptoms Caterpillars feed within leaves bound together with silken threads
Most active April to September but all year round in glasshouses

What are tortrix moth caterpillars?

These small green caterpillars are the larval stage of moths belonging to a family called tortrix moths (Tortricidae). There are almost 400 species of tortrix moth in Britain, several species can be found in gardens, most causing no serious damage to plants, and so should be treated as part of the biodiversity a healthy garden supports. Two species can however, can feed on a wide range of plants and the leaf rolling and defoliation they cause in gardens and glasshouses often gets noticed; the carnation tortrix moth (Cacoecimorpha pronubana) and light brown apple moth (Epiphyas postvittana).

A gallery of adult tortrix moths found in Britain can be found at UKmoths.


The caterpillars of carnation tortrix and light brown apple moth bind leaves together with silky threads and feed within this shelter causing damaged areas to dry up and turn brown. Fruit and flowers can also be damaged. In glasshouses damage can occur year round.


Check susceptible plants frequently so action can be taken before a damaging population has developed. When choosing control options you can minimise harm to non-target animals by using the methods in the non-pesticide section below Pesticide treatments are likely to kill natural enemies and are only likely to be successful if the entire plant can be reached.


  • Some damage can be tolerated without adverse effects on plant health. Populations of caterpillars, as butterflies and moths are an important part of the garden ecosystem
  • Light populations can be managed by squeezing the bound leaves to crush the concealed caterpillars and pupae
  • Encourage predators and other natural enemies in the garden such as birds, wasps and ground beetles
  • Carnation tortrix and light brown apple moths can be monitored and may be kept in check by using pheromone traps. These consist of an open-sided cardboard box with a sticky sheet in its base. A pellet which releases a pheromone is placed on the sheet; this is the same chemical produced by females to attract males. In a confined space, such as a glasshouse, the traps may capture enough males to reduce the mating success of the females. These traps are available from some suppliers of biological controls


The RHS recommends that you don't use pesticides. Most pesticides (including organic types) reduce biodiversity, including natural enemies, impact soil health and have wider adverse environmental effects.
Where you cannot tolerate tortrix moths, manage them using the information above as your first course of action.
Pesticide treatments are likely to kill natural enemies and so reduce the likelihood of natural control and can lead to resurgence of the target animal.
If you do decide to use pesticides, the shorter persistence products (that are usually certified for organic growing) are likely to be less damaging to non-target wildlife.
The pesticides listed are legally available in the UK. This information is provided to avoid misuse of legal products and the use of unauthorised and untested products, which potentially has more serious consequences for the environment and wildlife than when products are used legally.
Always follow the instructions on the products. For edible plants, make sure the food plant is listed on the label and follow instructions on maximum number of applications, spray interval and harvest interval.
Homemade products are not recommended as they are unregulated and usually untested.
Be aware that products such as Neem oil are not registered for use in the UK and we cannot advise on their use.
Plants in flower must not be sprayed due to the danger to bees and other pollinating insects.

If treating then early treatment is best since young caterpillars are more susceptible than the older larva. 
  • Organic sprays, such as natural pyrethrum (e.g. Bug Clear Ultra 2, Neudorff Bug Free Bug and Larvae Killer), have a largely physical mode of action. These are broad spectrum so will kill a wide range of insects. These pesticides have a very short persistence and so may require reapplication to keep numbers in check. Plant oil and fatty acid products are less likely to affect larger insects like ladybirds
  • Further information about the use of pesticides available for management of tortrix moth is available on the pesticides for gardeners leaflet

 Inclusion of a pesticide product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by RHS Gardening Advice. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.


Pesticides for gardeners (pdf document)


Out of doors light brown apple moth has two overlapping generations during the spring and summer. Eggs are laid in batches on the leaves of host plants and hatch after about ten days. The caterpillars then feed with foliage sown together with silken threads and pupae where they have been feeding. In glasshouses and on houseplants the lifecycle can vary, with adults and caterpillars active from late winter until late autumn.

Carnation tortrix moth has a similar lifecycle to light brown apple moth but can breed continuously in glasshouses and on houseplants. 

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