In the past two weeks, instances of true armyworms (TAW) in wheat, corn and pastures have increased across the state. TAW are similar in appearance and size to fall armyworm (FAW). TAW possess a mottled brown head capsule (Figure 1) while FAW have an inverted “Y” on their head capsule. TAW develop into six instars, with larval development taking roughly 20 days and generational turnover occurring in 30 days. This insect is not well adapted to hot temperatures, and survival decreases significantly when air temperature is above 86 degrees F. TAW prefer grass hosts but will feed on broadleaves. TAW primarily feed at night, making observation during the day difficult. Larva consume 80% of the total foliage required for development in the last three to five days as larva. Larva congregate at the base of plants and on the soil surface to avoid midday temperatures. There are several natural enemies of TAW in Louisiana field crops. Predacious insects, parasitoids and pathogens occasionally will control TAW populations before a foliar overspray is required
TAW infesting Bt corn rarely causes economic injury, and Bt proteins available in field corn work very well controlling TAW. Non-Bt corn can experience significant injury from TAW, and fields should be scouted regularly to avoid defoliation. TAW can graze non-Bt corn to the ground; however, if the growing point is still beneath the soil (up to roughly V5), corn seedlings will recover quickly.
TAW can significantly injure wheat if worms are allowed to defoliate the flag leaf before soft dough or clip wheat heads at any stage. The LSU AgCenter threshold for TAW in wheat is when five worms per square foot are found and foliage loss is occurring.
In hayfields and pastures, TAW can cause significant injury to grass crops if left uncontrolled. TAW injury is identical to FAW, and routine scouting in the spring is recommended. The LSU AgCenter threshold is one worm per sweep.
Pyrethroid insecticides control TAW very well in corn, wheat and pastures. As a general rule, large worms are harder to control than small worms.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your local AgCenter agent for more information.