If It’s Fall These Must Be Armyworms

We are re-posting this article from September of 2019, because … well, they’re back!

Armies are good, especially our army.  And worms are good things, too.

But fall armyworms … that’s a different story.

Public Domain CCO 1.0

We like our lush, green lawns, and so do these little pests. Fall armyworms are connoisseurs of fine lawns, especially fresh, new sod, and will muster the troops for an assault as soon as they reach the larval stage.

Prevention and cure is problematic due to the complex life-cycles of these critters. At maturity, they are scaly winged (hence Lepidoptera) moths, generally harmless to our North Carolina turf and crops as they migrate in from Florida. But then they will lay up to a 1,000 eggs in some of the oddest places, and when these eggs hatch and extrude the larva, the problems start. The larva is not a worm as the name suggests, but a caterpillar, and without further ado these caterpillars will scurry off to eat about anything green – but especially green grass. They will feed for some 2-3 weeks (wreaking havoc on your lawn), after which they burrow into the ground to pupate for a couple of weeks and metamorphose back into moths.

Vandemark Farms
Photos courtesy of Vandemark Farms, LLC

The net result of all of this is that the best time to attack and kill these critters is at the preventative stage before they hatch, or when they have just emerged as larva – that is, when they are small enough to be treated with the usual pesticides. If you wait until they have fed and grown, the common pesticides are much less effective and reapplications or more difficult measures are necessary. So, here is our strong recommendation: look for the egg mass or identify these pests early in the larval stage!

The larval caterpillars are about 1 1/2 inches long with stripes, and usually have an inverted ‘Y’ on their heads. They range in color from green to mottled brown to black. Fall armyworms are generally easy to spot as they crawl on top of the ground. Additionally, as the name implies, they tend to travel and feed in army-like groups, which makes their grass-damage visible as a definite line going through your turf.

So, keep an eye out for these pests, and contact us if you need help! Your grass will thank you.

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