Editor’s note: The following was written by Robert Wright, University of Nebraska Extension entomologist, for the university’s Cropwatch website.
Common stalk borer eggs have hatched and scouting should begin when 1,300-1,400 degree days have accumulated. This is when larvae start moving into corn and other crops.
Stalk borers are an occasional pest of corn. Stalk borer damage in corn commonly is confined to plants in the first few rows near field margins, fence rows, grass terraces and waterways.
Understanding the common stalk borer life cycle and behavior is critical to selecting management practices to reduce damage in corn.
Female stalk borer moths lay their eggs primarily on grasses such as smooth brome or ragweed in late summer and early fall. Egg-laying sites usually are in fence rows, terraces and waterways, but can be found throughout a field if preferred hosts are available. Eggs overwinter and hatch in late April or early May.
Larvae bore into the stalks of grasses or other hosts, such as ragweed, and begin feeding. As they become larger or if the plants are mowed or burned down with herbicides, the stalk borers migrate into adjacent corn plants to complete their development.
In some cases, if a weed host is not available when eggs hatch, stalk borers may begin feeding directly on corn.
Corn between the two- and eight-leaf stages can be attacked by the migrating stalk borer larvae. Larvae develop through seven to 10 instars, or stages, in about 10 weeks. Pupation occurs in the soil and moths emerge in August, September and early October. There is a single generation each year.
Young larvae are brownish-purple and have three prominent longitudinal white stripes at the front and rear ends of the body. The stripes are interrupted at mid-body by a solid dark purple to black area. Fully grown larvae do not have these characteristic markings and are uniformly dirty gray. Fully grown larvae can be 1 1/2 to 2 inches long.
Stalk borer larvae injure corn plants in June and early July. They feed on leaves in the whorl and then tunnel into the stalk, or they burrow into the base of the plant and tunnel up through the center of the stalk. Leaf feeding alone does not cause economic damage.
Tunneling into the stalk can result in deformed or stunted plants that may not produce an ear. Severely damaged plants can die. Plants attacked at earlier growth stages tend to be more severely injured. A single stalk borer larva may attack more than one plant if the first plant does not support the larva as it increases in size.
In severe cases, an infested plant will have a very ragged appearance, with abnormal growth habits such as twisting, bending over or stunting.
Any weed control method that helps eliminate grasses will reduce the number of potential stalk borer egg-laying sites, reducing the probability of stalk borer damage the next year. Control of grassy weeds is important to keep stalk borer problems from increasing year to year.
Planting date may have some influence on the degree of injury from common stalk borers. Since smaller plants are more heavily damaged, earlier planting may allow corn to outgrow the most severe damage.
Stalk borer hatch and migration to new hosts can be predicted using degree days (DD). Based on research at Iowa State University, stalk borer egg hatch begins at about 575 DD and ends at 750 DD. Begin scouting corn when 1,300-1400 DD have accumulated. This corresponds with the beginning of larvae moving out of grassy hosts. Determine the need for treatment when 1,400-1,700 DD have accumulated.
Check corn plants bordering grassy areas to determine the percentage of plants with stalk borer injury when 1,300-1,400 degree days have accumulated since
Jan. 1. Examine several sets of 10 plants. Look for feeding damage and dissect damaged plants to see if live larvae are present.
If weedy grasses were common in the previous year, the whole field may need to be scouted for common stalk borers.
Use the information in the table to determine the economic injury level.
To be effective, insecticides must be applied before common stalk borer larvae have entered the stalk.
In cases where stalk borers begin feeding on grassy weeds or other vegetation in field edges, control is most effective if timed between 1,400 and 1,700 degree days, which corresponds to the first half of the period when stalk borers are migrating from weedy hosts into corn. If the infestation is restricted to the field margin, use a border treatment.