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by Aaron Cato - June 2, 2022
Tomato Fruitworm moths are currently laying eggs on susceptible plants across the
state. Provided here are recommendations on how to easily manage them in tomato:
June is here and that means the risk of tomato fruitworm, Helicoverpa zea, begins to increase rapidly.We generally expect an influx of moths blown in on storms each year in late May that
are in search ofcorn or tomatoes to lay eggs on. It looks like flights are already ramping up with
over 330 tomato fruitworm moths captured in Southern Arkansas last week at one site, and over 100 a week
at many othersites around Central Arkansas. See more information about current moth flight numbers
with ourinteractive map at this link www.uaex.uada.edu/hort-ipm. We held an agent training down in Bradleycounty on May 25th and tomatoes there were confirmed to be well above threshold with eggs and larvaeeasy to find. We are getting more reports now about high populations and even of damage
Tomatoes are all over the board when it comes to maturity right now, with fully ripe
Bradley countytomatoes in the South and a lot of smaller plants as you move North. Regardless of
their stage, mostpeople have fruit and flowers on the plants and they are prime targets for serious
losses due to tomatofruitworm feeding. See below for recommendations on scouting for this pest, effective
products to relyon for management, and some info about our latest research efforts.
As the name suggests, people usually see fruitworm once they already have some size
to them and arefeeding on the fruit they hope to sell. However, the trick to managing this pest with
minimal losses is totry to target it when it is most vulnerable and before it begins feeding on fruit.
As with most caterpillarpests we deal with, this means trying to control the larvae just as they hatch.Tomato fruitworm generally lays its eggs on the tops of leaves or other plant structures
near the top ofplants. These eggs are spherical or domed in shape and are about half a millimeter
in diameter andheight (Picture 1). Fruitworm eggs take about 3-4 days to hatch before 1st instar larvae will begin to feedon small amounts of leaf material and move inward towards the center of plants. These
larvae generallyfeed on minimal amounts of leaf material before they molt to their 3rd instar and move to flowers andfruit (Picture 2 and 3). Finding fruitworm eggs is relatively easy compared to looking for larvae or feedingdamage on plants. Larvae are near impossible to find after they hatch and before they
start feeding onlarge amounts of leaf material or reproductive parts in their 3rd instar. Begin scouting weekly for eggsonce plants begin to take off all the way through harvest. Fruit samples should also
be checked forescaped worms.
Picture 1- Tomato Fruitworm eggs present in large amounts on tomato leaves.
Picture 2- A 3rd instar tomato fruitworm still feeding on tomato leaves and feeding damage fromtomato fruitworm on unopened flowers.
Insecticide applications for tomato fruitworm should not be automatic, as not all
growers will seeenough pressure to warrant applications throughout the season. Thresholds for control
are based onegg counts and the number of escaped worms found in fruit or on plants (Picture 3). Initiate aninsecticide spray if you are finding 1 egg per 10 plants. I would recommend you thoroughly
check 10plants in multiple places throughout your plantings, as moths often will lay many
eggs in a small area.Continue to scout for eggs after you make an insecticide application to determine
if you need additionalapplications. Growers should also check fruit for escaped worms that were either initially
missed duringegg scouting or were not controlled by the insecticide application. Make additional
applications if 3escaped worms are found per 100 cut fruit (Picture 3).
Picture 3- Escaped worm feeding on tomato fruit.
There are many options for controlling tomato fruitworm, but only a few that work
very well. Mostgrowers rely heavily on pyrethroids such as Warrior II or bifenthrin for suppression,
but fruitwormresistance to these products is well established and is known to lead to escaped worms.
We’ve assessedthe effectiveness of pyrethroids for two years in research trials at Hope and always
see inadequatesuppression, even when sprayed weekly (Figure 1). Additionally, these are broad spectrum insecticidesthat can flare both mites and aphids. More selective alternatives such as the diamide
products, Coragenor Exirel, are less likely to flare secondary pests, have long residuals, and have
no known resistance. Wetrialed the diamides vs. pyrethroids in 2020 and 2021 and saw impressive results (Figure
1). Whentargeting insecticide applications based on the egg threshold mentioned above using
diamides, we sawhalf as much damaged fruit compared to pyrethroids sprayed on threshold or even sprayed
every week.Other alternatives to pyrethroids include spinetoram products and some effective biologicals.
Take alook at the Southeast Vegetable Handbook for additional recommendations and efficacy data. We are trialing a number of additional
products this year for this pest and the results will be posted this winter.
Figure 1 – 2021 Efficacy data for tomato fruitworm at Hope, AR. Only 1 application was made
at 1xthreshold based on egglay. The red line indicates a 3% fruit damage threshold that
would warrantadditional applications. Both weekly pyrethroids (6 applications) and 1 pyrethroid
based on threshold failed to keep damage under this level.