Friday, August 17, 2012

The Corn Earworm



The corn earworm is one of the most destructive insect pests of corn in the world. But here in Hawaii it is not quite as destructive thanks to CTAHR (University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources) plant breeders. Hawaii-bred corn varieties are more resistant to the earworm due to their thicker and tighter husks, thus limiting the number of larvae that can gain entry to the ear. This allows growers to simply cut off the tips of the ears to remove any damage that may have occurred.

Most of the eggs of the corn earworm are laid on the young silks soon after the silks have emerged. Young larvae crawl down the silk to feed on the kernels, soft cobs and the silk itself.  Luckily they also eat each other, keeping populations low.

Corn planted early in the year is not as seriously affected as is late corn because population densities increase as the season progresses. Early plantings will have minimal damage; later in the year one or two worms may appear in the tops of each ear of corn.

Control
To help control the pest, between plantings destroy the crop residue or haul it off to the compost bin. This eliminates places that would harbor the pest. Several natural enemies are present in Hawaii and, in general, they keep the corn earworm at tolerable levels. In most cases, control is simply a matter of cutting off damaged ends of corn at harvest.

For those gardeners who are plagued with the corn earworm, here are some chemical recommendations from the University of California IPM program:
  • Spinosad -  must be applied on silks within 3 days after first silks appear and at 3-day intervals until silks turn brown.
  • Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) - may be dusted on silks every 3 days after 5 to 10% silk formation for partial control.
  • Applying a few drops of mineral oil with a medicine dropper to silks just inside each ear 3 to 5 days after silks first appear may be effective.