Grape Leaf Skeletonizer: All You Need to Know for a Healthy Vineyard

The Grape Leaf Skeletonizer is a type of moth whose larval stage is notorious for wreaking havoc on grapevines. Its scientific name is Harrisina americana, and it can be found in various regions across the United States. These insects are considered a pest due to their destructive feeding habits, which can lead to damaged fruit … Read more

How to Get Rid of Grape Leaf Skeletonizer: A Quick Guide for Healthy Vines

Grape leaf skeletonizers can be a nuisance for grape growers, as they have a tendency to damage grape leaves, which in turn affects the overall health of the vine. These pests, particularly the larvae of the grape leaf skeletonizer moth, Harrisina americana, feed on the leaves, leaving only the veins intact.

There are several methods to control and prevent grape leaf skeletonizer infestations. One popular method involves the use of insecticides, particularly when dealing with larger grape growing operations. For small-scale gardeners and organic vineyards, natural predation and biological control methods can be explored.

While grape leaf skeletonizers may prefer some grape varieties over others, it is still crucial for grape growers to keep an eye out for any signs of infestation. By staying vigilant and applying the appropriate control methods, it’s possible to protect grapevines from these destructive pests and maintain a healthy, thriving crop.

Identifying Grape Leaf Skeletonizer

Life Cycle

The Grapeleaf Skeletonizer (Harrisina americana) belongs to the Lepidoptera order and Zygaenidae family. The life cycle starts with tiny white eggs laid by the adult moth. These eggs are found on the leaves of grapevines and hatch into larvae, which are yellow with transverse bands of black dots1. They grow into the adult moth form after going through several stages of development.

Symptoms and Damage


Larvae of both Grapeleaf Skeletonizer and Western Grapeleaf Skeletonizer are known for their skeletonizing feeding habit on grape leaves. Some key differences between the two include:

  • Grapeleaf Skeletonizer (Harrisina americana): Young larvae feed on leaf undersides, eating through some layers but not all, giving the leaf a skeletonized appearance. As they grow older, they eat completely through the leaves.
  • Western Grapeleaf Skeletonizer (Harrisina metallica): They prefer to skeletonize the leaf tissue, leaving the large veins intact. Their feeding may lead to sun-damaged fruit and bunch rot.

Photo Examples and Damage Impact

Examples of the damage caused by Grapeleaf Skeletonizers can be seen in these photos. Heavy infestations can lead to:

  • Complete defoliation
  • Serious yield losses
  • Damage to fruit

Prevention and Control

Effective control measures include:

  • Use of biological control agents like Bacillus thuringiensis to target the larvae
  • Hand-picking in smaller areas due to gregarious feeding habits
  • Regular treatments for important grape pests to prevent skeletonizer problems

Prevention Strategies

Cultural Conditions

One way to keep grape leaf skeletonizer at bay is to maintain healthy grapevines and proper growing conditions. Some tips include:

  • Plant grapevines in well-drained soil
  • Choose a location with good sunlight exposure
  • Take care to properly prune and train the vines

Maintaining a healthy grapevine is essential in preventing pest infestations. Additionally, consider planting resistant varieties such as Virginia Creeper or Muscadine grape, which are less prone to skeletonizer infestations.


  • Handpicking is an organic method to control skeletonizers
  • Check grapevines regularly for any signs of skeletonizer larvae
  • Remove and destroy larvae manually

By handpicking the pests from the vines, you can help control the infestation without the use of chemicals. Handpicking is most effective when done regularly.

Organic Actions

Implementing integrated pest management (IPM) techniques is another approach to managing grape leaf skeletonizer populations. There are a few organic actions you can take:

  • Introduce natural predators: Certain insects, such as parasitic wasps, feed on skeletonizer larvae. Encouraging these natural predators to inhabit your grapevines can help control populations.
  • Use organic insecticides: Products like neem oil and insecticidal soap can help manage infestations without harming beneficial insects or the environment.
  • Crop rotation: Rotating your grapevines with other crops can reduce the chances of pest populations becoming established in your garden.
Method Pros Cons
Handpicking Chemical-free, low-cost Time-consuming, labor-intensive
Natural predators Environmentally friendly, promotes biodiversity May take time to establish
Organic insecticides Less toxic, safer for beneficial insects May require multiple applications

By combining these prevention strategies, you can create a comprehensive plan to protect your grapevines from the grape leaf skeletonizer and maintain a healthy, productive vineyard.

Control Methods

Biological Pesticides

One effective way to control grape leaf skeletonizer is by using biological pesticides. A popular option is Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a naturally occurring bacterium that specifically targets caterpillars like the grape leaf skeletonizer. Bt poses minimal risk to beneficial insects, humans, and the environment.


  • Targets specific pests
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Safe for beneficial insects


  • May require multiple applications
  • Not effective on non-caterpillar pests

Another biological pesticide option is the use of granulosis virus. This virus infects caterpillars, resulting in a viral infection that disrupts their feeding and eventually leads to their death. Like Bt, the granulosis virus has a low impact on non-target organisms.

Chemical Insecticides

If biological pesticides are not enough, chemical insecticides may also be used to control grape leaf skeletonizer infestations. Examples of chemical insecticides include methomyl and spinosad.


  • Broad-spectrum insecticide
  • Highly toxic to insects


  • Targets caterpillars and other pests
  • Derived from soil-dwelling bacteria
Insecticide Pros Cons
Methomyl Broad-spectrum; highly toxic Greater risk to beneficial insects, humans, and the environment
Spinosad Targeted; relatively low-risk Less effective on some pests

When using chemical insecticides, it is crucial to follow all label instructions and precautions to minimize potential harm to humans, beneficial insects, and the environment. Consider integrating biological and chemical controls for a comprehensive approach to managing grape leaf skeletonizer populations.

Additional Considerations

Life Cycle of Skeletonizer

The life cycle of the grapeleaf skeletonizer (Harrisina metallica) consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult moth1. Moth species like Harrisina metallica have multiple generations per year2. Some key points about their life cycle are:

  • Eggs are lemon yellow and laid in clusters on lower leaf surfaces3.
  • Larvae feed on grape leaves, skeletonizing the leaf tissues1.
  • Pupa stage occurs before adult moths emerge2.

Effects on Other Plants

Grapeleaf skeletonizer larvae mainly affect grapevines (Vitis spp.)4. However, other plants may also suffer from similar defoliation problems caused by insect pests. For example:

  • Roses can be affected by the Japanese beetle5.
  • Other plant species might experience damage from different moth larvae species6.

Here’s a comparison table of these pests:

Pests Main Target Symptoms
Grapeleaf skeletonizer Grapevines (Vitis spp.) Skeletonized leaves, defoliation
Japanese beetle Roses (and more) Skeletonized leaves, defoliation5
Other moth larvae species Multiple plants Varying levels of damage6

It’s important to understand the life cycle of a grape leaf skeletonizer and its effects on other plants when planning to control them. Being aware of the various insect pests in your plant will help you implement the most suitable treatment methods.


  1. Grapeleaf Skeletonizer | Scout Guide for Problems of Fruit 2 3

  2. Western Grapeleaf Skeletonizer / Grape / Agriculture: Pest … – UCANR 2

  3. grapeleaf skeletonizer – Harrisina americana

  4. Evaluating lures for western grapeleaf skeletonizer monitoring in …

  5. Japanese Beetle | Planet Natural 2

  6. Common Garden Pests and How to Manage Them ( 2

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Grape Leaf Skeletonizer


little worms on grapevine
I think you guys are great. I would love to know what these little worms are. They really don’t seem to move, but I’ve found evidence that they’ve been around. Where did they come from and do they need to be destroyed or do they turn into something good? I found them on my grapevine. Thanks,
Lois Cain

These caterpillars are Grape Leaf Skeletonizers, Harrisina metallica. The caterpillars are a major defoliator on grape vines.

Letter 2 – Mystery from Thailand: Leaf Skeletonizer Caterpillar


The truth is out there – 07.05.10
May 6, 2010
Hi Daniel,
Greetings once again from sunny Phuket.
How are you ?
Some staff of mine have run into this curious little oddity and asked me if I could assist in identifying it.
To me it’s clearly alien – possibly from alpha centuri or the crab-stick nebula. Its no surprise that a week after Stephen Hawkins informs us that aliens are amongst us that we find him (her, it or them).
What do you think ?
With kind regards,

Mystery: Caterpillar we presume

Hi Again Mark,
How is the Atlas Moth population doing?  We presume this is a caterpillar, but that is just a guess.  It surely is a strange looking creature.  We haven’t the time to research this at the moment, but we hope our readership will kick in and assist.

Read more