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Stalk Borer

Stalk borer include such crops as corn, fruits, other vegetables, and flowers. The larvae feed on leaves or burrow into the stem of the plant making the plant appear wilted or deformed with visible holes on the leaves and stems.

Stalk Borer

Stalk Borer

The young larvae are cylindrical and fairly slender, with markings distinguishing them from similar borers. The body is light brown with a narrow white stripe running from head to tail down the back. A similar white stripe on each side of the body is interrupted by a purplish-brown band that circles the front third of the body. When disturbed, the larvae are very active, moving in a looping manner to escape.

The moths are reddish-brown and resemble cutworm moths. The eggs resemble those of other members of this family, being globular, sculpted, and pinkish-brown.Stalk borer larvae are known to feed on more than 200 species of wild and cultivated plants, ranging from grasses to trees. Small grains, corn, forages, and vegetables are all subject to their attack.

Life cycle:There is one generation per year. Moths are present from late August to mid-October. Most of the eggs are deposited from mid-September to early October. Eggs are laid singly or in groups in folded, dead leaves of grasses and weeds. Eggs may also be deposited on corn plants. Recent observations indicate orchard grass and rye are highly attractive to the moths for egg deposition. The winter is passed in the egg stage. The eggs hatch over a relatively long period of four to five weeks, from mid-May to mid-June. The larval stage lasts approximately nine to twelve weeks. Starting in late July, larvae complete development and form pupal cells in the soil. The pupal stage averages about twenty days; the moths start emerging in late August.

Damage:During May, the newly hatched larvae enter the nearest suitable host plant. Since grasses usually dominate at this time of year, they are most likely to be first attacked. When stalk borers enter the stems of small plants, the plants are either killed or the larvae soon become too large to stay. The larvae then search for larger hosts. Corn, generally a secondary host, is normally attacked when between two and thirty inches high. The first damaged plants are usually noticed in late May. In reduced-tillage plantings, where much grass is killed early, corn plants become primary hosts.Stalk borers attack young corn plants in two distinct ways, both typical of this insect. The first is more common.

Stalk Borer Damage

Stalk Borer Damage

The larvae burrow into the stalks near ground level and eat their way upward through the center. The first noticeable symptom is wilted leaves. Some plants buckle near the ground. Small plants seldom survive infestation.The larvae crawl to near the tops of the plants and eat their way through the rolled leaves down into the stalks, leaving a few ragged holes in the leaves and small amounts of sawdust-like frass on the leaves. Leaf wilting in the top half of the plant is an early symptom.The larvae are ferocious and aggressive, and will fight any other insects or larvae they encounter. One seldom finds more than one larva per plant.

Control:Plowing under the egg-harboring grass, weeds, and trash appears to provide satisfactory control. Controlled burning of ground cover between November and planting time for corn will also destroy most of the eggs. Currently, insecticides registered for use against pest insects on corn have not proven highly effective against the stalk borer.

Control measures should concentrate on prevention. Destruction of weeds in fields and along fence rows results in the elimination of many primary hosts from which the borers infest corn. Where applicable, systemic insecticides may be effective when applied in areas of highest potential damage. Single plants affected can be carefully split open and the larvae removed. The stem then needs to be banded back together. Another organic option is to stick a needle in at regular intervals along the stem. The needle will hopefully hit and kill the larvae inside.

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