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European Corn Borer

European Corn Borer Control

How To Control the European Corn Borer

The European Corn Borer (Ostrinia nubilalis) is a widespread pest (found on three continents) known to feed on 250 different kinds of plants, some of which include: corn, pepper, eggplant, chrysanthemum, dahlia, beet, bean, potato, tomato, apple, cotton, oat and soybean along with many kinds of weeds. Adults are small, tan, nocturnal moths. Females have a thick body and lighter colored wings than the males, which tend to be a darker tan-to-brown color.

Life Cycle & Appearance

Adult moths typically start appearing in early spring to mate and lay eggs on desirable plants. The eggs can be found on the undersides of leaves and other areas that are sheltered from predators and environmental hazards. There can be anywhere from one to four generations in any given season and this is largely predicated on local climate conditions and adaptation to those conditions by the European Corn Borers in your area. Clusters of 15-20 eggs can be found throughout crops where an infestation is present changing from a creamy white to an orange/tan as they age. The larval stage of the European Corn Borer appears light brown to light pink in color with a brown head and dark spots on each body segment. Larvae prefer to feed on the whorl, but eventually move down into the stalk and ear as they continue to feed and grow for about 50 days. Once the larvae finish their sixth instar stage, they will pupate for a period of about 12 days.

Damage Symptoms

The larvae eat leaves and tunnel in all parts of the stalks and ears with much of the major damage done to sweet corn found in the ears. The tunneling impairs the growth of the plant and diminishes yields of crop production. Early damage is typically found on tassels, whorl and leaf sheaths, but the larvae of European Corn Borers will also feed on silk, kernels, cobs and the stalk. Older larvae leave larger tunnels and their feeding habits are considered to be most damaging. European Corn Borer damage provides a pathway for fungal and bacterial diseases to become established.

Controlling European Corn Borers

  • Pheromone traps attract male European Corn Borers and prevent mating and egg laying before it occurs.
  • Introduce beneficial insects like the Minute Pirate Bug, Green Lacewing, Ladybugs and Trichogramma to control the eggs and larvae.
  • Applications of Beauveria bassiana can be made to target areas of the affected plants. (Mycotrol WPO, Botanigard® 22WP)
  • Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki) sprays can be used and should be applied to ears, tassels, and whorls.
  • Timing of insecticide applications is important as the larvae will be more active when tassels emerge; therefore, they will be more likely to come in contact with the insecticide
  • Destroy stalks after the season and mow close to the surface. The stalks are overwintering sites for the larvae and this practice has proven to eliminate up to 75% of the larvae present. Do not compost infested or diseased plant material.
  • Plant resistant varieties if possible.
  • Single-factor control approaches have proven to have mixed results. A combination of the above treatments will result in improved control.

For additional information about general borer control please see our Borer Control page.

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