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Squirmin’ Worms- 9/14/16

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by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist

As deer season quickly approaches here in sweet home Alabama, hunters and landowners statewide are scrambling to get their food plots in tip top shape. Unfortunately, many individuals are experiencing a new tribulation. In combination with the unfavorable heat and rainfall this summer, armyworms are now posing a threat to food plots and crops everywhere. Until now, I had never heard of such a worm and I definitely did not know the extent of damage they could cause. I began to hear multiple people talking about the worms and noticed some of my tomato plants were dying as well, so I did a little research and this is what I found.

Occurrence

Armyworms are most prominent in southern Alabama and begin wreaking havoc around mid-July, but some areas have reported seeing them as early as mid-April. Unfortunately, these pests thrive on dry, hot conditions and prefer all the high dollar crops such as cotton, sorghum, corn and alfalfa (which also happen to be most preferred by deer-go figure). The armyworm moths catch air currents from Central America and South Florida and arrive here in our lovely, rain deprived state. They then begin to grow in late summer/early fall and devour all the crops that farmers and landowners have been babying all summer long. As if battling the weather was hard enough, we are now battling caterpillars that are bottomless pits.

Behavioral Patterns

            The armyworms feed early in the morning or late in the evening, but sometimes will feed all day on unmanaged foliage. The larger armyworms eat the most and can sometimes be seen hanging off the side of a crop, just munching away. They are one of the stealthiest creatures I have ever studied, as I have not yet actually seen one in my yard, but I can see their “fingerprints”. Armyworms will quickly invade new foliage after destroying the last pasture or hayfield and will be present one day, and gone the next. They spend most of their days burrowed deep in the soil and will emerge to eat when it is cooler…that is why it appears that the damage happened “overnight” (because it basically did).

Damage/Management Techniques

One sign to look for if you suspect armyworms is if you noticed “burned spots” in your grass. It may look as if a small fire has taken place. In leafy vegetation, you will see large, jagged chunks taken out of the leaves or grass. In tomato plants, all the leaves will be stripped from the stalks, but the tomatoes will still remain. Other farmers have reported that they looked at their field of cotton one day and it was fine but the next day, all of it was dead. All of these cases are examples of armyworm damage, my friends. The easiest way to extinguish the pests is first to determine the life stage of the armyworm; the smaller they are, the easier they are to destroy. In large hayfields, mowing will be your best friend. Another option for grasses and perennials is the use of insecticides. It is important to apply these when armyworm activity is at its peak (early or late in the day) but read all instructions before applying…you don’t want to kill more than the armyworms already have.

Armyworms seem to be at their worse this year and I believe they are just getting started. The caterpillars come in during late summer and can last until October, or whenever the colder weather begins to set in. The worm cannot survive the winter months and will die then. However, if you feel that your crops or food plots are being damaged by armyworms, move fast! Do whatever you can to protect your food plot and keep your deer herd happy and healthy this winter!

By: Red Clay

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