Agronomic Crop Insects

Joanne Whalen, Extension IPM Specialist;

Be sure to watch for economic levels of alfalfa weevil and pea aphids. When sampling for aphids and weevils, collect a minimum of 30 random stems throughout a field and place them top first in a white bucket. For aphids, you want to count the number present per plant as well as any that have dislodged from the stem into the bucket. As a general guideline, you should consider a treatment in alfalfa less than 10 inches tall if you find 40-50 aphids per stem. The treatment threshold for alfalfa 10 inches or taller in height is 75-100 per stem. Although beneficial insects can help to crash aphid populations, cooler temperatures will slow their activity. As a general rule, you need one beneficial insect per every 50-100 aphids to help crash populations. For alfalfa weevil, you will also want to record the number of weevil larvae per stem. The following thresholds, based on the height of the alfalfa, should be used as a guideline when making a treatment decision: up to 11 inches tall – 0.7 per stem; 12 inches tall – 1.0 per stem; 13 – 15 inches tall – 1.5 per stem; 16 inches tall – 2.0 per stem and 17 – 18 inches tall – 2.5 per stem.

Low levels of aphids and cereal leaf beetle adults can be found in fields throughout the state. Since we are past the prime time for barley yellow dwarf transmission (fall transmission is the most important), the next important time to consider aphid management in small grains is at grain head emergence. Since cereal leaf beetle populations are often unevenly distributed within the field, it is important to carefully sample fields so that you do not over or under estimate a potential problem. Eggs and small larvae should be sampled by examining 10 tillers from 10 evenly spaced locations in the field while avoiding field edges. This will result in 100 tillers (stems) per field being examined. Eggs and larvae may be found on leaves near the ground so careful examination is critical. You should also check stems at random while walking through a major portion of the field and sampling 100 stems. The treatment threshold is 25 or more eggs and/or small larvae per 100 tillers. If you are using this threshold, it is important that you wait until at least 50% are in the larval stage (i.e. after 50% egg hatch). You will also want to access the Virginia AG Pest Advisory for a good article entitled Is Wheat at Greater Risk to Cereal Leaf Beetle?

We are also finding low levels of winter grain mites in no-till wheat fields. This is a cool weather mite so be sure to watch fields for this pest, especially with the predicted cooler temperatures for next week. The following is an overview of this pest written by Dr. Ames Herbert from Virginia Tech: “Winter grain mites attack small grains, including wheat, barley, and oats. The mite also infests and damages legumes, vegetables, ornamental flowers, cotton, peanuts, and various weeds. Adult mites are about 1 mm long, black, with red legs and are fast moving. They quickly run to ground cover when you approach plants. As the name implies, they are winter pests. There are two generations per year. The first develops from over summering eggs. Development begins after the onset of favorable temperature and moisture conditions in late September and October with populations peaking in December and January. The second generation develops from eggs laid by the first generation reaching maximum infestation density in March and April. Populations then decrease as temperatures exceed the range of tolerance. The females of this generation lay aestivating or over summering eggs. Temperature and moisture are the most important factors influencing mite development and abundance. Cool rather than warm temperatures favor their development. Egg laying is heaviest between 50° and 60°F; the optimum conditions for hatching are between 44° and 55°F. When temperatures drop below or rise above these ranges, the mites stop feeding and descend to the ground or burrow into the soil. Mite activity in the spring drops rapidly and the eggs fail to hatch when the daily temperature exceeds 75°F. Aestivating (over summering resting stage) eggs do not hatch in the fall until rains provide adequate moisture. On hot, dry days it may be necessary to dig into the soil to a depth of four or five inches to find mites. The mites are not harmed by short periods of sleet or ice cover or by ground frozen to a depth of several inches. The larvae become very active soon after hatching and begin to feed on the sheath leaves or tender shoots near the ground. The larvae as well as the adults feed higher up on the plants at night or on cloudy days. As the sun rises, the mites descend the plants and seek protection during the hot part of the day on the moist soil surface under foliage. If the soil is dry and there is little foliage cover, they dig into the soil in search of moisture and cooler temperatures. At sunset and thereafter the plants become covered with feeding mites where, with the aid of a searchlight, they can be observed feeding at all hours of the night. Dispersion from field to field may occur by transportation of aestivating eggs or mites on grain stubble or leaves, on soil adhering to implements that are moved about, or on forage or straw carried from infested fields in livestock feeding operations. Aestivating eggs may also be transported on debris by wind, and local distribution may occur by adult migration. Such migrations to grain fields may take place from fencerows or other uncultivated areas. Heavily infested fields appear grayish or silvery, a result of the removal of plant chlorophyll by mite feeding. When high infestations feed on the plants for several days, the tips of the leaves exhibit a scorched appearance and then turn brown, and the entire plant may die. These mites do not cause the yellowing characteristic of spider mite feeding. Many of the infested plants do not die, but become stunted and produce little forage or grain; damage on young plants, however, is more severe than on large, healthy ones. Damage may also be greater in plants stressed by nutrient deficiencies or drought conditions. There are two types of damage to the small grains, namely, reduced amount of forage throughout the winter and reduced yields of grain in the spring and summer. Cropping practices have a marked effect upon the occurrence and damage caused by the winter grain mite. Injury by this mite may be prevented by crop rotation, that is, by not planting small grains more than two years in succession.”