Kansas State University


Extension Entomology

Tag: Beneficial Insects

Alfalfa weevil status

–Jeff Whitworth, Extension Entomologist: Holly Schwarting, Entomology Research Assoc.; Steve Watson, Agronomy; Mary Knapp, Weather Data Library

Thanks to the unusually warm winter, alfalfa weevil larvae are already present in some areas. Many more will no doubt be hatching in the next few days to weeks. Alfalfa weevils will continue to hatch and larvae continue to develop any time temperatures exceed 48°F.


Thus, it looks like larvae will be emerging, and damage progressing, relatively quickly. Whether this warm weather will compress the alfalfa weevil larval feeding so that the period of damage is not as stretched out as usual remains to be seen. There are also lady beetles active in the alfalfa fields, as well as a few pea aphids. The treatment threshold we use for alfalfa weevil insecticide applications is 30-50% infestation, i.e. 1 larva/2-3 stems.


Alfalfa weevils are cool-weather insects. Adults lay eggs in alfalfa fields in the fall or even the winter. Most of these eggs survive the winter. Eggs hatch and larvae emerge after accumulating enough degree days or thermal units, normally in early spring. Alfalfa weevil adults also lay eggs in the spring, but in many cases the first larvae to emerge are from eggs that were laid in the fall and overwintered.


That said, an anomaly we encountered in the fall of 2016 was a significant infestation of relatively large (2nd and 3rd instar) larvae from mid-November to mid-December. Alfalfa weevils normally overwinter as eggs or adults – not larvae. In the last week we could find none of these more mature larvae, or any pupae. So, hopefully they perished in the colder weather.

Figure 1. Alfalfa weevil larvae collected Nov. 16, 2016 in Dickinson Co.



Figure 2. Alfalfa weevil larva collected Feb. 22, 2017 in Dickinson Co.

However, as of February 22 we did start finding newly hatched larvae in north central Kansas (Figure 2). Obviously the larvae hatching out now are coming from eggs deposited prior to Jan. 1, 2017. The return of below freezing temperatures may kill those very small, young larvae, especially if they stay in the plant terminals. But, they may survive if they crawl down the plant and get in the plant residue where they will be protected. So, scouting should continue as follows:



Early scouting for alfalfa weevil


Scouting for alfalfa weevil larvae should start after plants break dormancy – which means now. A degree day or thermal unit accumulation system can be used to predict when to initiate scouting. Insect development is controlled by temperature. This can be used to help manage these pests. Weevil activity has been tracked in Kansas for the past few years and has been used to generate recom­mendations (Table 1).



Table 1. Approximate degree days required for alfalfa weevil development

Degree Days or Thermal Units Stage Importance
25–300 Eggs develop and hatch In stems
301–450 1st and 2nd instars Leaf pinholing – start sampling
450–600 2nd and 3rd instars Defoliation
600–750 3rd and 4th instars Defoliation
750+ Pupa to adult Adults – some feeding – oversummering


To calculate a degree day, record the daily high tempera­ture anytime it exceeds 48ºF. For example, if there is only one day in January that the temperature exceeded 48ºF, take that temperature and add the lowest temperature for that day, or 48ºF, whichever is higher. Then divide by 2 to calculate the average tempera­ture for that day. Next, subtract 48ºF.

As an example, say there was one day in January when the high temperature was 60ºF and the low was 35ºF. You would use 48ºF as the default value for the low instead of 35ºF. The calculation in this case would be:

[(60 + 48)/2] – 48 = 54 – 48 = 6 degree days (or weevil development units)


The following chart from K-State’s Weather Data Library shows examples of the degree days that have accumulated for the period for Jan. 1 – Feb. 21, 2017 and for last fall:



Do not be too quick to treat for alfalfa weevil. Wait until the field reaches the treatment threshold. Treating too early is not only unnecessary, it can also have detrimental effects by killing beneficial insects.


For more details, see Alfalfa Weevils, K-State publication MF-2999, at your local county Extension office, or http://www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/MF2999.pdf



Other early spring alfalfa insects


While scouting for alfalfa weevils, you will probably also notice a few pea aphids. These are also early season potential pests. However, in the past few years pea aphids have seemed to be adequately controlled by adult lady beetles. This year seems to be starting that way as well, with a few pea aphids, but also many adult lady beetles present.

Figure 3. Pea aphid on alfalfa leaf.


Also, producers need to keep an eye out for army cutworms as there were some reports of army cutworm activity last fall. Army cutworms start feeding again any time temperatures are above 50 degrees F. Armyworms are another potential problem, but probably a little later in the spring.


Those are the early season pests which have the most potential for damaging alfalfa prior to the first cutting. For more information on control, see K-State publication MF-809, Alfalfa Insect Management 2017, at: http://www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/MF809.pdf

Dormant Oils

–by Dr. Raymond Cloyd

Dormant oils are applied during winter in order to deal with insect and mite pests that survive the winter in overwintering life-stages, such as eggs or mature females. Instead of waiting until spring to initiate “control” measures, the application of dormant oils may be helpful in reducing costs associated with pesticide inputs (in this case, insecticides and miticides) later in the season (spring through fall). The advantages of applying dormant oils include: 1) a wide range of activity against most species of mites and scales—even the eggs; 2) minimal potential for resistance developing in insect and/or mite pest populations; 3) less direct and indirect harmful effects to beneficial insects and predatory mites compared to pesticides with long-residual activity; and 4) relatively low toxicity to humans and other mammals. The disadvantages of dormant oils include; potential phytotoxicity during the growing season and minimal residual activity or persistence.

Dormant oils are typically derived from paraffinic crude oil, and are the heaviest of the petroleum-based oil sprays with a low unsulfonated residue (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Dormant Oil Product

The unsulfonated residue is an assessment of the phytotoxic compounds remaining after distillation and refining. An unsulfonated residue >92% indicates a highly refined product with less potential for phytotoxicity. Dormant oils generally have a unsulfonated residue value <92%.

Dormant oil applications are primarily directed at killing overwintering pests including certain mites and scales (Figure 2),


Figure 2: Dormant Oil Product Label Information.

before they become active in the spring and are capable of causing plant injury. Applications are made during winter so as to minimize phytotoxicity to ornamental plants. A 2% to 4% application rate is generally recommended in late fall to early spring. Dormant oils have contact activity and either suffocate; by blocking the breathing pores (spiracles), or directly penetrate and disrupt cell membranes of exposed insect and mite pests. However, dormant oils have minimal residual activity once residues dissipate, so thorough coverage of all plant parts is essential.

Since dormant oils are applied to all plant parts, the overwintering stage of the insect or mite pest must be located on the plant. However, not all insect and mite pests overwinter on plants. For example, dormant oil applications are not effective against the twospotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae) because the mite overwinters as a female in plant debris, mulch, or other non-plant protected places. In contrast, the spruce spider mite (Oligonychus ununguis) overwinters as an egg on plants, primarily evergreens such as arborvitae, hemlock, juniper, and pine; so the spruce spider mite is susceptible to dormant oil sprays.

Dormant oils are effective in killing the overwintering stages of scales, especially first and second instars or nymphs (=crawlers). For example, euonymus scale (Unaspis euonymi) overwinters as second instar nymphs or mature females; both life stages are susceptible to dormant oil applications. However, certain scales that overwinter as eggs such as oystershell scale (Lepidosaphes ulmi) and pine needle scale (Chionaspis pinifoliae) are more tolerant of dormant oil applications because the eggs are generally stacked or piled on top of each other. Subsequently, dormant oils may not penetrate and contact the bottom layer. As a result, additional insecticide applications are typically required after egg hatch.

An issue when using dormant oils is the potential for plant injury or phytotoxicity. Some plants, such as arborvitae, beech, redbud, and certain maples (Japanese, red, sugar, and amur), may be harmed by dormant oil sprays. Furthermore, the needles of Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) may be discolored or change from blue to green as a result of a dormant oil application. Phytotoxicity may be a problem when >4% application rates are used and/or when applications are performed in early fall before dormancy or in late spring at bud-break. Problems associated with phytotoxicity are less likely to occur when applications are made in early November through February, which is when most plants are completely dormant. In order to avoid phytotoxicity, always ensure the spray solution is continually agitated. Also, never apply dormant oils when temperatures are ≤32ºF. Dormant oils should be applied to deciduous plants when the ambient air temperature will stay above freezing for at least 24 hours. Evergreens, in general, are more susceptible to damage than deciduous plants, so it is best to apply dormant oils when temperatures remain above 40ºF over a 24-hour period although there is no quantitative evidence suggesting that applications made at <40°F will damage dormant fruit trees. In addition, general recommendations are that dormant oils should never be applied to plants that are stressed since stressed plants are more susceptible to phytotoxicity. For example, lack of moisture, extreme temperatures, and sudden drastic changes in the ambient air temperatures after spraying, prolonged windy conditions, and disease or insect infestations may predispose plants to phytotoxicity. However, there is no direct evidence indicating that dormant oils are harmful to stressed trees.

There is a general misconception that insect and mite pest populations are unable to develop resistance to dormant oils. However, this is not true. For instance, a Christmas tree plantation of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) trees was sprayed with dormant oils for more than 10 years in succession to “control” pine needle scale. Eventually, the scale population became more and more difficult to “control.” Why? Well, what was discovered was that the scale covers actually increased in thickness; making it difficult for the dormant oil to penetrate the outer covering and kill the eggs.

Preventative dormant oil applications may avoid dealing with abundant insect and/or mite pest populations during the season. Therefore, inputs from insecticide and/or miticide applications may be reduced, thus preserving the natural enemies of mites and scales, including; predators and parasitoids that may naturally regulate populations of these pests.


Cicada Killers

–by Dr. Raymond Cloyd

We have received numerous inquiries regarding large wasps flying around. These are the eastern cicada killer, Sphecius speciosus, which is actually a beneficial insect due to regulating dog day cicada (Tibicen pruinosa) populations. The cicada killer hunts and provisions each cell within a nest with a cicada, which becomes the food source for young cicada killers or larvae. Cicada killers are an urban nuisance pest, especially when nesting, sometimes in large numbers, in a bare area or area around a structure. People get concerned because cicada killers resemble giant yellowjackets.

Cicada killers are approximately 2.0 inches in length and black, with yellow-banded markings on the abdomen. The head and transparent wings are reddish brown (Figure 1).

Figure1CicadaKillerAdult (Daniel Gilrein)

Figure 1: Adult cicada killer (Photo Credit: Daniel Gilrein)

Cicada killers are not dangerous, but they are intimidating. These are ground-nesting solitary wasps, with the female digging a 6 to 10-inch burrow (1/2 inch in diameter) in the ground; usually in sandy or loose soil. A pile of soil or sand, depending on the soil type, typically surrounds the entrance. The female locates and stings a large insect such as a cicada or katydid and then brings the immobilized “prize” back to the burrow (Figure 2).

Figure2CicadaKillerFemaleTransportingParalyzedCicadaToBurrow (Raymond Cloyd)

Figure 2: Adult female cicada killer transporting paralyzed cicada to burrow (Photo Credit: Raymond Cloyd)

burrow (Figure 2).

The female then places the paralyzed insect into a chamber and lays an egg on the body of the paralyzed insect; sometimes the female places two paralyzed insects in a burrow but lays an egg on only one. The female cicada killer eventually covers the burrow, digs another, and repeats the process. The egg hatches into legless grub-like larva that consumes the paralyzed insect. Full-grown larvae overwinter in the burrow, pupate in the spring, and emerge as an adult during the summer (July and August).

Male cicada killers establish aerial territories and patrol for intruders. A male cicada killer wards off other males that enter his territory and attempt to mate with females. Anyone else, such as a human, walking into the territory is typically confronted by a very large wasp that hovers in front of the face and “zips” to the side and back. However, after determining that the “intruder” is not a rival, the male cicada killer ignores the individual. However, as a person walks across a lawn, fairway, or other area where these wasps are nesting, the process is repeated through each male’s territory. Cicada killers are unlikely to sting a person. Wasp and bee stingers are modified egg-laying devices (ovipositors), so males are unable to sting. Females may sting if crushed by being stepped on with bare feet or grabbed with bare hands.

Cicada killers are more common in areas with bare soil, so mulching, planting ground covers, or sodding may reduce potential problems. Cicada killers can also be a problem in well-maintained areas such as irrigated and regularly fertilized turfgrass. They are a major problem when nesting in areas accessible to or frequented by the public. Applying carbaryl (Sevin) or a pyrethroid-based insecticide containing the active ingredient permethrin, bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, and/or lambda-cyhalothrin to the burrowed area should kill females in golf course sand traps. Once the females are gone, males eventually leave. In home yards, sandboxes should be covered with a tarp when not in use since this deters cicada killers. Sand below swings, jungle gyms, or other playground equipment can be replaced with bark mulch or shredded tires.

Managing cicada killers in volleyball courts and baseball infields is more of a challenge because people with minimal clothing and exposed skin are diving and sliding onto the ground, which makes it difficult to recommend using an insecticide on a volleyball court. In these cases, the use of a geotextile fabric placed beneath the sand may create enough of a barrier to prevent cicada killers from creating burrows. The recommendations mentioned above will only be effective if cicada killer populations are not excessive.



–by Dr.  Jeff Whitworth and Dr. Holly Schwarting

Sorghum is in various stages of development around NC Kansas. The late planted, which seems to be just in the whorl stage- to soft dough, or even farther along. Corn earworms (often called sorghum headworms/soybean podworms etc., depending upon the crop infested) are causing significant infestations and therefore concern because of the highly visible whorl feeding and subsequent “ragged”-looking leaves as they expand from the whorl. This feeding probably will have no effect on yield, and by the time the damage is noticed the worms are mostly finished feeding anyway. Therefore, treatment is rarely justified. Feeding on the kernels however which is the marketable product is a different story. Sampling for head-feeding worms is really relatively easy. Just take a small white bucket, bend the head over into the bucket and vigorously shake it against the sides of the bucket which dislodges the larvae. Then count the worms and divide into the number of heads sampled.

Sorghum headworms_small

Rule of thumb: kernel-feeding larvae cause 5% loss/worm/head. Sorghum heads are most vulnerable from flowering to soft dough. These larvae are relatively susceptible to insecticides so efficacy is usually pretty good. However, these insecticides will reduce beneficial insect populations which can help later if any aphid populations develop.

Sorghum hedworm_single


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