Special Alert: Growers Need to Scout for Soybean Podworms and Sorghum Headworms

Kelly Hamby1, Galen Dively1, David Owens2, Ben Beale3, Peter Coffey3, Andrew Kness3, Alan Leslie3, Erika Taylor3, Kelly Nichols3, Matthew Morris3, and Emily Zobel3

1University of Maryland Department of Entomology
2University of Delaware Extension Entomology
3University of Maryland Extension

Moth flight activity for the corn earworm, also known as the soybean podworm and one species of sorghum headworm, has increased during the past week. Pest pressure varies across the state and Delmarva region. The early surge in activity is attributed to the record temperatures during June and July, which have accelerated larval development and shortened the generation time of this insect. Corn earworm has already caused significant damage to ears of sweet corn and early planted field corn. Note that Bt hybrids expressing single or multiple Cry proteins no longer control earworms due to the development of resistance; only hybrids expressing the Vip3a Bt protein provide good ear protection. These hybrids represent a relatively small portion of the planted acreage. Thus, significantly more adult moths are now recruited in corn compared to levels a decade ago.

Corn earworms are strongly attracted to and prefer fresh corn silks for egg laying. Outbreaks in other crops often follow a midsummer drought, which causes the corn to ripen earlier and become less attractive to the moths. As early planted corn fields dry down, moths will move into other vegetable and grain crops.

Podworms in Soybeans:

Corn earworm feeding on soybean pod. Image: Clemson University
Corn earworm feeding on soybean pod.
Image: Clemson University

In soybeans, female corn earworm moths prefer to lay eggs in open-canopied, late-blooming fields, and are most attracted to soybeans for egg laying from flowering to early pod-set. Drought conditions also delay soybean maturity and prevent normal canopy growth, so peak moth activity is more likely to coincide with blooming of open-canopied fields. In irrigated fields, activity may be greater along pivot tracks and dry corners. Corn earworm larvae can damage flowers; however, because soybeans produce more flowers than needed, flowering sprays are rarely necessary. Podworms cause the most damage when large larvae are feeding on full seed pods with large seeds (see information from NCSU).

What to do? Scout bean fields, paying special attention to those fields with a more open canopy in areas where the nearby maturing corn is no longer attractive to earworm moths.

Sampling should start during mid-August and be repeated at least weekly in each field until a spray decision is made or the pods reach full maturity. Most fields are planted as narrow-row beans, so a 15-inch sweep net is the most practical way to sample for earworms. Walk along the rows, swinging the sweep net so that the opening passes through the foliage. The net is turned 180 degrees after each sweep as you advance with each step to swing the net through the foliage in the opposite direction. Each stroke is counted as one sweep. A series of 25 sweeps should be taken at each of 5 sites in every 40 acres.

Treatment is recommended when counts exceed 3 medium to large podworms per 25 sweeps in narrow row fields, or 5 podworms per 25 sweeps in wide row fields (20 inches or greater). The timing strategy is to wait until most of the larvae are 3/8 inch or more in length, and then treat when pod damage is first evident. This allows for most egg laying and hatching to occur before treatment and reduces the chances of a second spray being needed later. These static thresholds are based on long-term averages for control costs and soybean prices. North Carolina State extension has developed a dynamic online threshold calculator for corn earworm in soybeans that takes into account the sampling method (uses a 15 sweep rather than a 25 sweep sample), row spacing, cost for control, and the value of soybeans, which can be found at:


Since the 2008 season, numerous reports of control failures with pyrethroids (Group 3A) used for earworm control have been reported from the Mid-Atlantic region and states to our south. This insect has developed moderate to high levels of resistance to this class of insecticides, so growers need to consider other modes of action. If a pyrethroid (e.g., Brigade, Warrior, Mustang Maxx, Hero, Baythroid, Tombstone) is used, the highest labeled rate timed for small to medium, rather than large worms, is recommended. Alternative classes such as diamides (Group 28; e.g., Coragen, Prevathon), oxadiazines (Group 22A; e.g., Steward) and spinosyns (Group 5; e.g., Blackhawk, Radiant) will be most effective. These materials are also generally softer on beneficial insects which prey upon other late season soybean pests, such as soybean looper and stink bug. ALWAYS read and follow instruction on the pesticide label; the information presented here does not substitute for label instructions.

Headworms in Sorghum:

Corn earworm female in sorghum. Image: John C. French Sr
Corn earworm female in sorghum. Image: John C. French Sr

Headworms (corn earworm, fall armyworm, and sorghum webworm) are caterpillar pests that infest grain heads. Flowering or heading sorghum is attractive to corn earworm females for egg laying, and headworm issues have been reported in Southern Maryland this year. Headworms feed on the flowers and developing kernels and large larvae can cause significant yield loss.

What to do? Scout sorghum fields from the end of flowering until hard dough.

Sample heads by bending them into a clean white 5 gallon bucket and beating them to dislodge the headworms. Sample 10 heads per location and sample multiple locations per field. If most larvae are small (up to ¼ inch) sample the field again in 3 to 4 days.

Thresholds vary by the size and species of larvae and sorghum value. In general, 2 corn earworm larvae per head would warrant treatment, and Texas A&M has developed a dynamic online threshold calculator that incorporates cost of control, grain value, anticipated yield (heads/acre), and larval size, which can be found at:


As mentioned above, pyrethroids (Group 3A) offer poor to moderate control of corn earworm in the Mid-Atlantic, and will not control heavy infestations or large worms. If a pyrethroid (e.g., Brigade, Warrior, Mustang Maxx) is used, the highest labeled rate is recommended. Alternative classes such as diamides (Group 28; e.g., Prevathon), spinosyns (Group 5; e.g., Blackhawk, Tracer), or carbamates (Group 1A; e.g., Sevin, Lannate) will be most effective. Selective insecticides that are less damaging to beneficials are recommended, such as Prevathon (most recommended) or Blackhawk. ALWAYS read and follow instruction on the pesticide label; the information presented here does not substitute for label instructions.

While scouting for headworms, growers are encouraged to look for sugarcane aphid in sorghum as well. Virginia Tech reported the first confirmed identification of white sugarcane aphid in Amelia County on August 1st. For more information on sugarcane aphid see Agronomy News Volume 8 Issue 1. If sugarcane aphids are also present, we strongly advise using selective insecticides to preserve the natural enemies that slow sugar cane aphid population growth.

Further Resources:

North Carolina State Podworm Factsheet:


University of Delaware Weekly Crop Update:


University of Delaware Insect Management:


Virginia Tech Pest Management Field Crops Guide:

https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/456/456-016/456-016.html (Sorghum Headworm Section)

Sorghum Checkoff Headworm Guide:


Sugarcane aphid found in VA sorghum – 2019:


Agronomy News Sugarcane Aphid Article:


Sulfoxaflor Registered for New Uses

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just issued a long-term approval for the insecticide sulfoxaflor, which the Agency has characterized as “an effective tool to control challenging pests with fewer environmental impacts.” The following information is from today’s EPA OPP Update.

“After conducting an extensive risk analysis, including the review of one of the agency’s largest datasets on the effects of a pesticide on bees, EPA is approving the use of sulfoxaflor on alfalfa, corn, cacao, grains (millet, oats), pineapple, sorghum, teff, teosinte, tree plantations, citrus, cotton, cucurbits (squash, cucumbers, watermelons, some gourds), soybeans, and strawberries.

EPA is providing long-term certainty for U.S. growers to use an important tool to protect crops and avoid potentially significant economic losses, while maintaining strong protection for pollinators,” said Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “Today’s decision shows the agency’s commitment to making decisions that are based on sound science.”

Sulfoxaflor is an important and highly effective tool for growers that targets difficult pests such as sugarcane aphids and tarnished plant bugs, also known as lygus. These pests can damage crops and cause significant economic loss. Additionally, there are few viable alternatives for sulfoxaflor for these pests. In many cases, alternative insecticides may be effective only if applied repeatedly or in a tank mix, whereas sulfoxaflor often requires fewer applications, resulting in less risk to aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.

EPA’s registration also includes updated requirements for product labels, which will include crop-specific restrictions and pollinator protection language.


In 2016, following a 2015 decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacating the registration of sulfoxaflor citing inadequate data on the effects on bees, EPA reevaluated the data and approved registrations that did not include crops that attract bees. The 2016 registration allowed fewer uses than the initial registration and included additional interim restrictions on application while new data on bees were being obtained. Today’s action, adding new uses, restoring previous uses, and removing certain application restrictions is backed by substantial data supporting the use of sulfoxaflor.

For additional information, please visit the EPA website.

Sorghum Growers Encouraged to Keep an Eye Out for Sugarcane Aphid this Season

Kelly Hamby, kahamby@umd.edu Assistant Professor/Extension Specialist, Department of Entomology

Ben Beale, bbeale@umd.edu Extension Educator, UME-St. Mary’s County

Sugarcane Aphid was found late last fall in Charles County, Maryland in a sorghum field that was being harvested for grain. Aphid populations were very high, with feeding present in the grain head and leaves. This is the first time that sugarcane aphid has been found in Maryland. While this aphid has caused substantial losses to sorghum in states to our South, it is unknown if the aphid will be present early enough and at high enough populations to cause significant injury in Maryland. Growers are encouraged to monitor sorghum fields through the summer for the presence of sugarcane aphid. We suspect sugarcane aphids are most likely to arrive later in the season in Maryland. Continue reading Sorghum Growers Encouraged to Keep an Eye Out for Sugarcane Aphid this Season