a jointly issued article from Extension Entomologists Drs. Pat Porter (Lubbock)
and Ed Bynum (Amarillo).
are large numbers of corn earworm larvae in Bt corn ears in the Texas
Panhandle, and some people are spraying in an attempt to control them.
first question we are getting is what to spray, but the better question would
be whether to spray. Corn earworm is
usually an ear tip feeder, and on its own is seldom an economic pest of corn.
However, this year we are seeing earworms doing more than just tip damage, and feeding
lower in the ear. The reason(s) for this change in behavior are unknown.
not forgotten last year though, when there was good evidence that just a little
ear tip damage resulted in higher fumonisin levels. This could happen again
this year, especially if the weather in August and September turns off wet and
relatively cool. However, based on what we saw last year, the little bit of tip
damage needed to promote fumonisin has already been done this year, so the
contribution of ear damage to in-season fumonisin levels will depend largely on
the weather between now and harvest.
earworm eggs are laid on silks, and the small larvae feed on silks as they move
toward the tip of the ear. Silks continue to grow for several days, so new
growth will not have insecticide residue on it. That is in part why sweet corn
growers often spray on a three-day schedule. Once inside an ear the larvae
cannot be reached with insecticides. They only leave the ear when fully grown
as they move toward the soil surface to tunnel in for pupation, but by this
time all of the damage is done. And these fully mature larvae don’t feed much,
so they won’t get an insecticide dose except by direct contact.
CEW from a Hale corn field this week.
is very little benefit to trying to kill them while they are in the ear and
after they finish doing damage. Corn earworm control for next year is not like
western corn rootworm control. Western corn rootworm has one generation per
year, and the beetles emerging in a field tend to stay in that field to lay
eggs in the soil. The theory of spraying rootworm adults to control next year’s
root feeding is that if most of the beetles can be killed before they lay eggs,
the number of rootworm larvae the next year will be reduced. Corn earworm,
however, is highly mobile has several generations, and multiple hosts to
develop on. The immigrant moths come up from the south in spring and early
summer, and immigration continues throughout the summer as locally reproducing
populations increase as well. Killing larvae as they leave the ear will have no effect on
next year’s population. It might slightly reduce the number of moths in the
next generation this year that will lay eggs in cotton (see below), but only
slightly, and at significant expense.
bean cutworm complicates things, but its management should follow established
procedures and guidelines presented on page 17 here. Western bean cutworm has been shown to be
resistant to Cry1F, the only older Bt toxin that provided any significant
control or suppression. Cry1F Bt corn should be scouted and treated as if it
was non-Bt corn.
second question we are getting is why all of the earworms? One answer would be that they have become resistant to most of the
toxins in Bt corn. Dr. David Kerns, IPM Coordinator at College Station, has
been running resistance assays on field collected populations of corn earworm
(cotton bollworm) collected in central Texas and has reported significant
levels of resistance to the once-partially-effective toxins Cry1Ab and Cry2Ab2.
Cry1F never was very effective, and Cry1A.105 is a synthesized version of these
Plains Pest Management Floyd CEW moth trap on July 23, 2018 with 428 moths caught over 7 days.
bollworm/earworm populations we have on the High Plains are comprised largely
of moths that flew in from south and central Texas, so it would be no surprise
to find they carry alleles (genes) for resistance to the older Bt toxins. Dr.
Ed Bynum, Extension Entomologist in Amarillo, will collect larvae from a Bt
corn field with high numbers of larvae in the ears tomorrow, and send these to
Dr. Kerns for laboratory screening for resistance. John David Gonzales,
Extension Agent IPM in Parmer, Bailey and Lamb counties, sent a collection of
250 larvae from a Bt problem field to Dr. Kerns this week. The laboratory screening
will take a couple of months to complete and the findings will be reported
third question we are being asked is what does this mean for Bt cotton which
shares many of the same or similar toxins found in Bt corn.The answer is that we don’t know for sure, but we can pose a
couple of scenarios. As most people have heard, bollworms (corn earworms) did
significant damage to Bt cotton last year in central Texas and in the
mid-South, and they are doing it again this year. Dr. Kerns assayed last year’s
bollworms and found a significant level of resistance, and we can assume that
same level or a higher level is present this year.
earworm (cotton bollworm) greatly prefers to lay eggs in corn rather than
cotton or sorghum. When given the choice between only cotton and sorghum, it
tends to prefer sorghum more. But we have relatively little sorghum in the
system this year. In areas where the corn planting is spread out over
time, moths emerging from earlier planted corn will seek to lay their eggs in
later planted corn that is silking or somewhat past green silk. This scenario
played out last year on the High Plains, and the later corn intercepted a lot
of the egg laying that would otherwise have gone to cotton if the later corn
was not around.
where much of the local corn crop is planted relatively early, there may not be
later corn and sorghum available to draw the moths away from cotton. It is
certainly possible in this situation that the moths emerging from corn will lay
a high percentage of their eggs in cotton. If there is resistance to the Bt
toxins in corn, the resulting larvae will be resistant to most of the Bt toxins
The one Bt toxin that
is still highly effective on corn earworm (cotton bollworm) and western bean
cutworm is Vip3a. Corn with Vip3a will not produce many moths at all, and
cotton with Vip3a will not have much damage. The “Handy Bt Trait Table for US Corn Production” makes it
simple to determine the Bt toxins in any commercialized corn.
of the week – The White Lined Sphinx Moth
Bug of the Week is one that we were getting reports and questions about from
the Tulia area this year but are actually an annual curiosity for all but
usually after causing some panic for gardeners and producers. The white-lined sphinx moth, also known as the
hummingbird or hawk moth. Sphinx moths are found throughout North America but
many more are native to tropical climes. There are over a thousand types of
sphinx moth worldwide and 125 in North America alone. The moth gets its name
from its caterpillar, which will rise into a “sphinxlike” pose if disturbed.
These caterpillars can and do grow to be quite large, up to four inches long,
which is pretty impressive, but the adult moths might be even more so.Some species of adult sph6inx moths can have
a wingspan of up to eight inches while the white lined sphinx moth, our native
sphinx, has a wingspan of about 3-4 inches. These moths are so humming bird like, they are
even sometimes mistaken for humming birds.
caterpillars of the white lined sphinx are a type of hornworm so called for the
small horns the sprout from their rear ends, which are impressive in their own
right. Don’t worry, those horns on our
local worms are not too hard or poisonous but caution is strongly suggested as
many horned insects do pack a poisonous horn or bristle of some sort.Coloration of the white lined sphinx
caterpillar varies some, but caterpillars are typically a vibrant green with bold
yellow, black, and white stripes running down their sides.
life cycle is fairly typical for a moth. In spring or summer, the female of the
species will lay as many as one thousand eggs on the plants that the larva will
eat. In 2 to 3 days, the eggs hatch into caterpillars and begin to feed. In
about eight weeks the caterpillar will be full grown and will burrow
underground. If the region has a sufficiently cold winter, much like the Texas
High Plains, the caterpillar will overwinter underground limiting the local
population to one generation per year.In
the spring they will emerge as an adult sphinx moth typically to fly at sunrise
and sunset, drink the nectar of flowers, and reproduce until winter.
years the annual arrival of the caterpillars causes quite a stir, most recently
in 2014 where there were an abnormally large amount moving across fields,
farms, and pastures from Kansas to Lamesa.The larva tends to hatch about the same time and move across the
countryside in vast numbers, sometimes numbering in the millions.This can be quite stressful to watch as they
move across cotton, sorghum, or vegetables.As of this date, they have never caused any economic problems as they
are very picky eaters.The larva only
feast on purslane weeds locally, almost completely ignoring other plants and
healthy foliage nearby.Their listed
diet can consist of variety of plants which include portulaca, primrose, wild
grapes, and a few types of succulent trees.
Borror, Donald J., Triplehorn, Charles A., Jonson, Norman F. “An
Introduction to the Study of Insects.” Sanders College Publishing, 1989, pg.
Metcalf, C. L., Flint W. P. “Destructive and Useful Insects.” Theirs Habits and Control, R. L.
Metcalf, McGraw Hill Book Company, 1962, pg. 258
Borror, Donald J., White, Richard E. “Insects.” Peterson Field Guides, R. T. Peterson,
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1970, pg. 642
Reed, B. Porter, P. Bynum, E., 2014. July 1, 2014, Plains Pest Management
Newsletter, The Sudden Appearance of Large Horned Caterpillars Cause Concerns.