Friday Caterpillar Blogging: Cotton Caterpillar

Alabama argillacea

Alabama argillacea, Cotton Leafworm
Image: DowAgro

The Cotton Leafworm, Alabama argillacea, was at one time the most serious pest of cotton in the US. The caterpillars eat the leaves of cotton. Early season feeding can reduce the cotton yield. Cotton Leafworm is not native to the US. In the early 1900s, cotton farmers used tons of toxic Paris Green (Lead Arsenate) to protect their crops. Prior to Paris Green efforts to control the pest were rarely successful.*

Alabama argillacea, was a mysterious pest, suddenly appearing some years & largely absent in others, due to its migratory nature. No life stage of the Cotton Leafworm can tolerate frost or freezing. Areas that experience low temperatures must be re-colonized from warmer areas every year. Populations every year migrated from South America, sometimes using cotton in Mexico as a stepping stone in their journey northward.

Alabama argillacea, has gone from as serious pest to a seldom collected moth in the US. Many areas that formerly grew cotton were planted to other more lucrative crops. Practices changed to eliminate cotton stubs post harvest to deny pests a source of food in areas where they could survive. Taken together, these practices drastically reduced the number of migrating moths that reached North America. The recent adoption of BT cotton further reduces the population.

Large populations of Alabama argillacea, were largely created by the planting of cotton, providing the species with large areas of a new source of food. Changes in practices have reduced populations in North America to levels that were likely present before cotton production was expanded.

The Mystery of Alabama argillacea. 1929. George N. Wolcott. The American Naturalist. Vol. 63, No. 684 pp. 82-87

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in behavior, by jjneal, Caterpillar Blogging, Environment, Pest Management. Bookmark the permalink.

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