Local insect populations have built, or possibly rebounded, over the summer months. The season’s rains, while not drought busting, have provided lush habitats for several species. As a result, we are feeling inundated with multiple, sometimes overlooked, species of insects. The most notable belong to the Lepidoptera order. In Hale and Swisher Counties we are already dealing with economic populations of FAW (fall army worms) and bollworms in sorghum and some cotton, but these are far from our only species of interest, or the only ones that could pose problems.
Over the past few weeks, other area and regional entomologist and I have noted and fielded several questions about high numbers of ‘odd’ caterpillar larva and moths of various species causing a stir. The White-lined sphinx moth was the focus of Dr. Ed Bynum’s (Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Entomologist - district 1) August 30th edition of the Panhandle Pest Update. In July, Manda Anderson (EA – IPM, Gaines County) mentioned garden webworms in her weekly newsletter. This week Dr. Pat Porter (Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Entomologist – District 2) sent out alerts regarding the yellow stripped armyworm (true armyworm). All district IPM agents responded to Dr. Porter’s alert stating that they too were finding the yellow stripped armyworms at varying levels alongside several other foliage feeding larvae.
After noting intense feeding upon pigweed by an unknown Lepidopteron species in the area, I enlisted the aid of Dr. Bynum and subsequently Dr. Porter in identification. This species turned out to likely be the garden webworms that Manda had mentioned back in July spreading, in very high numbers, across the region. These garden webworms can currently be found locally by the thousands feasting upon Palmer, kochia, and even some Johnson grass, doing what our best efforts in weed control could not (unfortunately they are doing it after the weeds have seeded out). However, the garden webworms are not working alone. There is a healthy mix of yellow stripped armyworms, beet armyworms, various cutworms, multiple looper species alongside the webworms, and likely several others such as the smartweed borer.
So far, this conglomeration of foliage feeding caterpillars has focused on weed species and just a few field margins. Several of these species are known crop pests. It is possible, maybe even likely, that once the weeds have been laid to waste, these hungry caterpillars could move to our area crops, gardens, and yards. As veracious as these caterpillars are, they could devour and ruin a small garden, hedge, or certain trees in a matter of hours and a crop field in days. On the crop side; any BGII cotton should be safe as should any Bt corn. All sorghum and other non-Bt crops are at risk.
I suggest keeping an eye on these caterpillars. In the meantime, we are getting to see much of our weeds turn brown. Hopefully, that is all they will attack.
Please call or come by if I can help,