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Corn earworm

Article author: Pat Porter
Most recently reviewed by: Ed Bynum (2018)

Common Name(s): Corn earworm, Cotton Bollworm, Tomato Fruitworm

Pest Location

Row Crop

Description

Corn earworm moth. Photo: Ed Bynum, AgriLife Extension

Corn earworm moth

The corn earworm is also the pest known as the cotton bollworm and tomato fruitworm and can be found on many garden and farm crops and non-crop vegetation. Adults have buff-colored wings and rather stout bodies. The wingspan is approximately 1½ inches. They are good fliers and can easily move from field to field and often arrive in large numbers on storm fronts. The moths only feed on nectar and are not pests.

 Corn earworm egg. Photo: Pat Porter, AgriLife Extension

Corn earworm egg

However, each female can lay 500 or more eggs. The eggs are laid singly and, when new, are pearly white. The color changes to a yellow/dull white tint over time before hatching. Small caterpillars look much like the small caterpillars of other species, and it is difficult to identify them without a microscope. Corn earworm caterpillars have many microspines on the back and sides of the body, and these are not found on most other common caterpillar pests. Larvae have a tan head and alternating dark and light stripes running lengthwise down the body, and they have numerous tubercles (dark spots) with long spines. Other pest species have stripes as well, but they do not have the abundance of microspines and tubercles, and a 10x hand lens will allow differentiation. There is no “typical” larval color, and it is common to find larvae that are either light green, dark green to grey green, or pink. Full grown larvae are approximately 1.5 inches long.

Origin and Distribution

The corn earworm is a New World insect (Western Hemisphere) and is present throughout this region. It overwinters only in areas with mild winters, but flies to other areas during the course of the spring, summer and fall.

Habitat & Hosts

Corn earworm has a very wide host range, and in Texas is usually the caterpillar found in ears of corn. Other cultivated hosts include tomato, sorghum, cotton, soybean, sunflower, squash, watermelon, potato, sweet potato, asparagus, artichoke, cowpea, snap pea, green bean, cabbage, cantaloupe, collard, cucumber eggplant, pepper, watermelon and others.

Life Cycle

Adults are quite mobile and can lay eggs on any host that is at a susceptible stage. Eggs are often laid near or on fruiting structures, but they can be laid on leaves and stems as well. Moths prefer to lay eggs directly on the green silks of field corn and sweet corn, and the larvae then consume the silk and move toward the ear tip.

Eggs hatch in 3-5 days and there will be five to six larval instars, each separated by a molt to a larger caterpillar. The larval stage lasts from 13 to 31 days depending on temperature. Insects develop faster under higher temperatures. After the last larval stage, the larvae move to the soil and construct a burrow where they will remain while in the pupal stage, which lasts from 10 – 25 days depending on temperature. Adults then emerge and will live for an average of 10 days, some more and some less. Corn earworm overwinters in south Texas, and often flies north carried on storm fronts. There are several generations per year and the insect can be expected to be present for most of the growing season in the south, but only increases gradually in number in more northern parts of the state. However, the growing season starts later in the north, and corn earworm is usually quite abundant by the time vegetables and other crops are susceptible.

Corn earworm larvae are cannibalistic and, even though there may be several small larvae in an ear of corn, these will eventually be reduced to one, or less commonly two, per ear. As fruit feeders, even one larva can cause significant damage in vegetable crops, but in agricultural crops like field corn, corn earworm is rarely an economic worry

Management

If you live in the State of Texas, contact your local county agent or entomologist for management information. If you live outside of Texas, contact your local extension for management options.

Home garden control options include:

  • Spinosad (Rate varies by brand name)
  • Permethrin
  • Synthetic pyrethroids
  • Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt. subspecies Kurstaki)

See Understanding Common House and Garden Insecticides ( https://citybugs.tamu.edu/factsheets/ipm/ent-4002/ ) for more information on insecticides.

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Click Beetle / Wireworm


Most recently reviewed by: Janet Hurley & Pat Porter (2018)

Common Name(s): Click beetle, Wireworm

Description

Click beetles are elongated, parallel-sided and usually bear backward projections on the side corners of the shield behind the head (pronotum). They are somewhat flattened and range in size and color by species. Smaller species are about 1/4 inches long. Most species are brown to black in color, although some have reddish and yellowish colors and patterns. The eyed click beetle, Alaus oculatus (Linnaeus), reaches 1-½ inches in length and is beautifully marked with prominent oval eye spots on the pronotum and mottled gray wing covers. When placed on their backs, these beetles characteristically “click”, snapping their thoracic segments (prothorax and mesothorax) to cause their bodies to flip in the air to right themselves. Larvae, called “wireworms,” are usually hard-bodied, brownish, ½ to 2-½ inch long and cylindrical, with three pairs of tiny true legs behind the head and a flattened, and an ornamented shield-like segment on the tail end of the body.

The false click beetles (Eucnemidae) are similar to click beetles, and some species can even “click.” They are less common and usually occur in wood just beginning to decay. The Texas beetle, Brachypsectrida fulva LeConte (Coleoptera: Brachypsectridae) somewhat resembles a 3/16-inch long click beetle without the clicking mechanism. There is only one species in this family.

Habitat & Hosts

Larval stages (wireworms) damage seeds and seedlings of a wide variety of crops including alfalfa, beans, beets, clovers, corn, cotton, grasses, small grains (wheat, oats, etc.) many vegetable and bedding plants.  They also tunnel into potato and sweet potato tubers. Larvae of some species, such as the eyed click beetle, occur in dead trees and rotting stumps and logs.  Adults of Deilater have two light-producing spots on the thorax and one of the abdomen, somewhat similar to that of lightning bugs (Lampyridea).

In some years, adults are extremely numerous and enter homes and other structures in significant numbers. Adults do not damage plants.

Life Cycle

Biology varies by species. In general, adults and larvae overwinter in the ground, becoming active in the spring. Adult females dig burrows and lay eggs around the base of host plants. Eggs hatch within a few weeks and larvae develop through several molts over a period of time from several months to over 4 years. They pupate in the cells within the soil in late summer or fall, and emerge as adults a few weeks thereafter. Generations can greatly overlap.

Management

If you live in the State of Texas, contact your local county agent or entomologist for management information. If you live outside of Texas, contact your local extension for management options.

Minimize wireworm infestations through clean cultivation and clean fallowing. Infestations are most severe in no-tillage or reduced-tillage situations, particularly following alfalfa, cover crops, or grain. Planting shallow and under warm conditions often allows cotton seeds to germinate quickly so plants can outgrow wireworm injury potential rapidly.

Larvae of some species damage seeds and underground parts of crop plants. Management in agricultural settings varies by crop, and growers should consult publications specific to the crop being grown. It is often the case that significant stand damage requires a replant of the crop.

Wireworm damage can be difficult to diagnose, in part because the larvae are highly mobile in the soil and may no longer be present. Look for chewed tissue on seeds and young plant parts below ground.

Wireworm damage to cotton seedlings. Photo credit: Patrick Porter.

Wireworm damage to cotton seedlings. Photo credit: Patrick Porter.

 

Time-lapse video showing wireworm larvae seeking shelter in soil. Video credit: Patrick Porter.

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Insects in the City “Click beetles gone wild

Wireworms at cottonbugs.tamu.edu

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