A small worm with a monster appetite may be destroying your grasses. Detect and control the fall armyworm before your pasture becomes its feeding ground.
Photo courtesy Texas A&M University
Radio interview source: Kathy Flanders, Extension Entomologist, Auburn University
The fall armyworm feeds on foliage, creating browned-out areas.
Kathy Flanders is an extension entomologist at Auburn University in Alabama. She says the insect over-winters in the Caribbean, Florida, and South Texas. The moths fly north, and by early fall they've reached northern parts of the U.S., laying eggs along the way. The caterpillars prefer to munch on pastures and lawns.
Flanders says the trick is to find armyworms when they're small before they do the most damage.
"Something like 80% of the damage from these caterpillars occurs in the last 4-5 days of their feeding," she says. "They feed for about two-weeks, and it's just that last stage that is causing most of the damage. So if you can find these creatures when they're smaller, that makes it easier to control them before they cause damage."
Young fall armyworms are small and it's hard to see them. The best time to check for them is morning or evening. To make searching easier, Flanders says Auburn University distributes sweep nets to nearby cattlemen. They look like tough butterfly nets and will scoop up the fall armyworms.
If more than two-to-three worms per-square-foot are found in pastures or hayfields, they need to be controlled.
"What well tell our farmers is that if they're anywhere near harvest, go ahead and harvest it because most of the caterpillars die during the harvesting operation and that can save that field," says Flanders. "If it's in a grazing situation in a pasture, they can intensively graze that field that's got the armyworms in it, and let the cows get the grass before the armyworms do."
There are also insecticides that will kill them.
Armyworm infestations are more severe when conditions are hot and dry. Monitor reports in your area and stay in touch with your extension service.
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