Managing Chewing Insects of Tomato
» Chewing insects can defoliate tomato plants and damage tomato fruit.
» Scouting procedures and action thresholds have been established for several tomato insect pests.
» Natural enemies help manage several of the “worm” insect pests of tomato.
Damage: The tomato fruitworm (Helicoverpa zea) is also known as the corn earworm. Adult moths lay eggs that hatch into larvae. The larvae move to green fruit and chew large holes, usually at the stem end of the fruit (Figure 1). The larvae then feed inside the fruit where they damage tissue, create cavities, and leave cast skins and feces, making the fruit unmarketable. Damaged fruit often ripen prematurely.1,2
Scouting: Start monitoring for adult moths mid-season when fruit are starting to form. The action thresholds recommended by production guides differ by region. The recommendation in New York is to start inspecting fruit for damage if more than seven tomato fruitworm moths are captured per week in pheromone traps.3 In the Midwest, a threshold of five to ten moths per trap per night is used, and higher threshold numbers are used if nearby corn (a preferred host) is silking.4 The recommendation in California is to begin evaluating leaves for eggs when moths are being caught in traps. Begin treatments when eggs are found earlier in the season, and caterpillars are detected later in the season.1 The IPM guidelines in California recommend evaluating the eggs for the level of parasitism, with treatment thresholds based on the percentage of parasitized eggs.
Management: Beneficial insects, including egg parasites and predators, can help keep tomato fruitworm populations in check, and some of these beneficials are commercially available. Bt and spinosad treatments can also be effective. Insecticide treatments need to be timed to control the larvae before they enter the fruit. When applying insecticides, direct sprays at the plant parts where larvae are found.1,2
Damage: Both the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) (Figure 2) and the tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata) are present in North America. Both species feed on tomatoes and strip leaves from the vines. They also feed on the surface of the fruit, leaving superficial scars that can heal over. In commercial plantings, hornworms often occur in localized areas of the field.5,6
Scouting: Consider treating if more than an average of one hornworm per plant is present.4
Management: Natural enemies, including Braconid wasps, often limit populations in commercial plantings. Disc soil after harvest to destroy overwintering pupae in the soil. Rotate to non-solanaceous crops. Insecticide treatments are usually only needed when hornworms are causing substantial damage. If the distribution in the field is restricted, consider spot-treating only the infested areas.1,4,5
Damage: Several species of armyworm, including the beet armyworm (Spodoptera exigua), western yellowstriped armyworm (S. praefica) (Figure 3), and southern armyworm (S. eridania) occur in North America. The larvae feed on leaves
and fruit, resulting in single or closely grouped holes that are circular to irregular in shape. Damage to fruit is more superficial than damage resulting from tomato fruitworm
Scouting: Begin scouting when fruit first appear. Evaluate leaves and fruit during a five minute, random walk through the field. If one or more larvae or egg masses are found during the five minutes treatment may be necessary.1
Management: Natural enemies and an insect infecting-virus usually keep armyworm populations in check. Insecticide treatment may be needed if indicated by scouting.1,2
Damage: The tomato pinworm (Keiferia lycopersicella), is a problem on tomato in Mexico, California, and parts of the southeastern U.S. Larvae chew holes in leaves, creating blotchtype tunnels in the leaf. Foliar feeding can cause defoliation. Larvae also enter the fruit, usually through the calyx, creating shallow, dry burrows in the fruit. Infestations of pinworm are often localized in commercial plantings. Damage typically becomes more severe as the season progresses.1,2,6
Scouting: Pheromone traps can be used to monitor populations of tomato pinworms from planting to harvest. Begin scouting six-foot row sections when moths are detected using the traps. Evaluate leaves for the presence of leaf mines (tunnels), folded leaves, and the presence of larvae. Consider treatment when an average of 1 or 2 larvae or area of damage are found per section of row.1
Management: Natural enemies, including parasitic wasps, often keep tomato pinworm populations in check. Destroy plant residue by burning or plowing after the final harvest. Avoid growing both early- and late-season plantings in the same area. Check transplants for pinworm infestations before transplanting. Pheromone based mating disruption can be used in isolated fields or area-wide in all fields.1,6
Damage: Black cutworm (Agrotis ipsilon) and variegated cutworm (Peridroma saucia) larvae feed on emerging tomato seedlings and young transplants, mostly at night. Seedlings can be cut off at the soil line. Fruit can be injured later in the season, especially fruit that is touching the soil surface.1,6
Scouting: Cutworm infestations are usually localized in a field. Initiate insecticide applications only after cutworms have been detected.1
Management: Till fields at least two weeks prior to planting to destroy plant residue that can be a habitat for larvae and pupae. If treatment is warranted, consider spot treating the localized areas of infestation.1
Apply insecticide treatments at times whenthey will be most effective, based on the important insect and plant developmental stages. If possible, use pheromone traps and scouting to determine when target insects are present and active before applying insecticides. If insects primarily reside on the undersides of leaves or at the stem ends of fruit, then it is important to make sure that sprays cover those areas. For many insect pests, the method of application can affect treatment outcomes. Ground applications are usually more effective than aerial applications because they provide better coverage of plant surfaces. Hollow-cone nozzles or air assist sprayers, higher spray pressures and application volumes, and lower application speeds will also improve coverage.1,3
It is important to protect beneficial insects, including natural enemies and pollinators. Do not apply insecticides to blossoms during the pollination period to protect pollinators. Also, avoid applying insecticides during the times of the day when pollinators are active, and protect hives in the area from spray drift. When possible, select products that are safe for bees and other pollinators.
Several insecticide products are available for many of the insect pests of tomato. Consult regional production or pest management guides for recommendations on the most effective products for specific pests in your area. Accurately identify the insect pests and select the products that have been shown to be effective for that specific pest. Be aware of problems with insecticide resistance and implement resistance management strategies. Rotate the use of insecticides with different modes of action (different insecticide classes). Always refer to the most current product labels and follow the instructions and restrictions listed on those labels.
1 Miyao G, Goodell P., Davis, R., Hembree, K., Natwick, E., Ploeg, A., Aegerter, B., Lanini, W., Stapleton, J., Stoddard, C., Subbarao, K., Trumble, J., Zalom, F. Revised continuously. UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines: Tomato. UC ANR Publication 3470.
2 Webb, S., Stansly, P., Schuster, D., Funderburk, J., and Smith, H. 2017. Insect management for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. UF-IFAS publication ENY-461.
3 Reiners, S., Wallace, J., Curtis, P., Helms, M., McGrath, M., Nault, B., and Seaman, A. 2019. Cornell Integrated Crop and Pest Management Guidelines for Commercial Vegetable Production. Cornell Cooperative Extension.
4 Weinzierl, R. 2014. Insect management in tomatoes. ISCAOC presentation. January 14,201.
5 Griffin, R. and Williamson, J. 2019. Tomato insect pests. Clemson Cooperative Extension. Home and Garden Information Center. Factsheet HGIC 2218.
6 Jones, J., Zitter, T., Momol, T., and Miller, S. 2014. Compendium of tomato diseases and pests, second edition. American Phytopathological Society, St. Paul, MN.
For additional agronomic information, please contact your local seed representative.
“ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW IRM, WHERE APPLICABLE, GRAIN MARKETING AND ALL OTHER STEWARDSHIP PRACTICES AND PESTICIDE LABEL DIRECTIONS.”
Performance may vary from location to location and from year to year, as local growing, soil and weather conditions may vary. Growers should evaluate data from multiple locations and years whenever possible and should consider the impacts of these conditions on the grower’s fields. The recommendations in this article are based upon information obtained from the cited sources and should be used as a quick reference for information about tomato insects. The content of this article should not be substituted for the professional opinion of a producer, grower, agronomist, entomologist and similar professional dealing with this specific crop.
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9068_S7 Published 01-09-2020
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