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Extension Entomology

Month: October 2016

Alfalfa and Wheat “Worms”

–by Dr Jeff Whitworth and Dr Holly Schwarting

Wheat and alfalfa fields throughout south central and north central Kansas should be monitored for signs of defoliation.  Many pests can defoliate either crop this time of year, i.e. grasshoppers and flea beetles (usually around borders), and “worms”.  These larvae are most commonly armyworms, fall armyworms, and/or army cutworms.  Identification is important for these “worms” because armyworms and fall armyworms will feed until the temperatures cool into the mid-20’s or they pupate, whichever comes first.

armyworm

fall-armyworm

 

Army cutworms, however, are and have been hatching from eggs deposited by moths as they return from over-summering, probably in Colorado.

army-cutworm

These army cutworm larvae will feed a little this fall, overwinter, then start feeding again in early spring.  So, if the “worms” causing the defoliation now are relatively large, ½ inch or more, they are probably armyworms and/or fall armyworms.

 

We have been hearing about and seeing a mixture of both armyworms and fall armyworms (see pics below).  These small worms start by causing small “windowpanes” in wheat or alfalfa.  No army cutworm infestations have been verified yet.

small-worm-1

small-worm-2

windowpane-feeding_wheat

Flocks of birds in wheat or alfalfa fields in fall or early spring are often indicative of a “worm” infestation as the birds are feeding on the larvae.  Fields with 25-30% of the plants showing “windowpane” feeding need to be monitored frequently as these larvae consume more as they get larger.  Treatment should be applied before stands become threatened.  For more information on treatment thresholds and management options please see the Wheat Insect Management Guide: http://www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/mf745.pdf

Sugarcane aphids still hanging on!

–The KSRE Field Crop Entomologists Team

Sugarcane aphid populations continue to persist in sorghum across much of Kansas, but cooler temperatures are slowing them down considerably. However, monitoring populations is still strongly encouraged as infestations can grow quickly if temperatures warm up. Winged aphids are moving from early planted sorghum fields to late planted fields, so pay close attention to whether infestations are winged or wingless. Wingless aphids have the potential to increase rapidly, but several factors, including presence of natural enemies, can help slow population growth. In all cases, be sure to monitor populations closely. Bottom line: scout often.

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Winged aphids (alates).

Yield loss due to aphid feeding can occur up through black layer. However, most losses caused by sugarcane aphid occur between boot stage and up through soft-dough (50% dry weight in the seed) stage; more data is needed to understand losses between hard dough and black layer, but seed weight (grain quality) and total yield may be reduced. Further details about sorghum growth and development can be found here (MF3234.pdf).

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Lady beetle eggs in a sorghum head.

Harvest of early-planted sorghum is underway, and late-planted fields are only a couple of more weeks from being ready (depending on weather conditions). Most decisions to spray for sugarcane aphid this time of year are aimed at avoiding mechanical issues associated with high aphid numbers and honeydew coating leaves and heads. Although buildup of honeydew can cause significant harvest problems, this is not an inevitable outcome. Weathering can reduce honeydew stickiness, so once grain is fully ripe, delaying harvest for a week or two may be an option, provided there is no indication of lodging. As lower leaves senesce or die off, aphids migrate to the upper leaves and eventually into the heads. We have observed this behavior in several fields this fall. However, colder overnight temperatures will significantly retard aphid growth and reproduction, and significant aphid mortality may occur before freezing.

Aside from honeydew and potential mechanical issues, lodging can also be associated with high aphid populations. It is important to understand that sugarcane aphid is not the only pest in sorghum this fall. We have observed high levels of 2nd generation chinch bugs feeding behind panicle leaf sheaths, which can also weaken stalks and cause lodging. In addition, from a plant physiology standpoint, during the last weeks of grain filling sorghum stems tend to shrink due to natural plant remobilization process, affecting final stalk strength.

When making a decision to treat so close to harvest, growers should consider four main factors: 1) overnight temperatures, 2) stage of crop maturity and potential yield, 3) aphid density, and 4) and the preharvest interval for registered insecticides. If the aphids have been heavy, but your grain has turned color, you may want to wait until the honeydew weathers to become less sticky before trying to harvest it. Read and follow the insecticide labels. For Sivanto and Transform, the preharvest interval is 2 weeks. Follow forecasted temperatures for upcoming weeks. Cooler nights will slow populations. We’ve observed aphids killed by 10 hours at 46F in a small lab study, but more data are needed to understand what low temperatures, for what period, will kill them under field conditions.

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Sugarcane aphids after exposure to freezing temperatures.

Again, monitoring fields and relying on more than a single sampling event will provide additional information for making a treatment decision. The only reason to treat aphids past black layer is to avoid potential harvest issues. Killing aphids this fall will not impact aphid populations next year in Kansas. This is a migratory pest and will not overwinter in Kansas.

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