The Beat Sheet

The Beat Sheet is a blog about insect pest management issues relevant to Australia's northern grain region of Queensland and northern New South Wales. This team blog is updated by entomology staff from Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries. Their contribution is supported by funding from the grains and cotton industries.

Monday, October 12, 2009

White heads and stem borer in wheat

Every year we receive reports of white heads in wheat, and while there are several possible causes of this symptom, one suspect implicated in the crime is a small stem boring larva called Ephysteris silignitis (Turner) belonging to the moth Family Gelechiidae.

Rod Collins and Hugh Brier did some investigative work back in 1998. They reared a couple of larvae through to the adult moths and had them identified by ANIC.

Rod Collins made the following observations: “The damage was usually confined to a single tiller per plant at a relatively low incidence through fields. Infected tillers seemed to have flowered normally, but soon after flowering the stem upwards from the last node (and including the head) died and was white in colour with no grain in the head. From a distance, these symptoms appeared to be the same as those of crown rot. However, infected tillers were green and apparently healthy from the last node (including the flag leaf) down. On closer examination, a small entry hole about the size of a pinhead was evident usually at or just below the first node up from the base of the plant. In some cases an exit hole was noted just above the last node.”

“When the stem was split open, you could follow where the larva had been up until the last node, where it was often found feeding on the tip of the stem just above the last node. In some cases, the larva had chewed through the tip and continued to move upwards towards the head. It appeared that once the stem began to dry out, the larva would bore a hole in the stem and exit. Only one larva was found per stem in all the plants that I saw.”

It seems not much is known about this species. It is believed to be a native species, one of three in this genus found in Australia. Ephysteris promptella is recorded as a pest of sugarcane in Australia. Ephysteris silignitis occurs widely in Australia south to about 35 degrees south and is thought to be confined to Australia. It is in the wettest parts e.g. Brisbane and Mt Bellenden Ker and the driest. It is common at Alice Springs. It was suggested that it may feed on grasses but there was no evidence.

Stem borer larva in wheat (Photo by Iain Macpherson)

At this stage the reports of isolated ‘white heads’ do not represent economic loss, but this stem borer is something to be aware of if those scattered white heads are observed in fields. There is no registered chemical control.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Recce for armyworm in winter cereals

The quick finish for winter cereals this season has resulted in the majority of crops escaping infestations of armyworm. Headers are already into some fields, but there are reports of armyworm making their presence felt in some of the later crops.

Being aware of their presence is one thing; whether to intervene is another.

In some late crops starting to turn, the presence of up to 12 small armyworm larvae per square metre need not necessarily sound alarm bells. This situation requires careful and regular monitoring, but there is every chance the crop will make it to harvest without the need to control armyworm.

If however, the crop lingers and the armyworm develop into medium and large larvae, there is a risk, particularly with barley, that head cutting will result in high yield losses. In this situation, quick action may be required to control armyworm and prevent losses.

The key points are
1) to be aware that armyworm are present and
2) to inspect regularly as the crop approaches maturity so that appropriate action can be taken if head cutting occurs.

For more information on armyworm, see the posting made on 20 October 2008.

Photo: Watch for the early signs of head cutting.

Reminder: Last date for Steward® EC use on chickpeas is 15 October

Winter pulses have had their expected share of helicoverpa infestations over recent weeks and most crops have been sprayed to control grubs. Strategies to minimise the risk of insecticide resistance are available. The following points should be observed.

Under the Insecticide Resistance Management Strategy (IRMS), the last use of Steward® EC for Central and Southern regions is 15 October, while the last use date for Northern (Central Queensland) regions (15 September) has long passed.

Grower and consultants are also reminded that for all pulse crops, not more than one application of Steward® EC per field is allowed for the crops entire growth cycle.

Access the full IRMS for 2009-10 on the Cotton CRC website: