The fall armyworm (FAW) (scientific name Spodoptera frugiperda) is a moth, native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, but it is the caterpillar or larva (photo 1) that causes damage. After mating, female moths lay egg masses of 100-200 eggs, usually on the underside of leaves and, within a few days, young larvae emerge and start feeding. Almost 100 different crops and other plants are susceptible to attack, but there is a preference for maize, rice, sorghum and sugarcane. The developing larvae eat different parts of the host plant, depending on the stage of crop development and the age of the larvae. Young larvae usually feed on leaves, creating a characteristic “windowing” effect and moist sawdust-like frass near the funnel and upper leaves. Early in the season, this feeding can kill the growing point, a symptom called ‘dead heart’ in maize, which prevents any cobs forming. Young larvae hide in the funnel during the day but emerge at night to feed on the leaves. In young plants, the stem may be cut. Older larvae stay inside the funnel and so are protected from spray applications and predators. In older plants the larger larvae can bore into the developing reproductive structures, such as maize cobs, reducing yield quantity and quality.
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