PestFacts WA

Identifying caterpillars in cereal crops

  • West Casuarinas
An armyworm larva climbing a drying barley stem
A common type of armyworm, Mythimna convecta, on barley. Photo courtesy of DPIRD.

Tony Rosser (Great Northern Rural) has recently found low numbers of armyworm caterpillars in wheat and barley crops near West Casuarinas.

In Western Australia, the most common types of caterpillars which damage cereal crops during winter or spring are lesser budworm (Heliothis punctifera) and armyworms (multiple species).


An armyworm caterpillar with three parallel white stripes on the collar just behind the head.
An armyworm caterpillar with three parallel white stripes on the collar just behind the head. Photo courtesy of DPIRD.

Armyworm caterpillars are fat and smooth and may be distinguished by the three parallel white stripes on the collar just behind the head. The first visible sign of armyworm caterpillars is often their green to straw-coloured droppings, about the size of a match head, found on the ground between the cereal rows.

Armyworm caterpillars are most damaging in barley crops close to harvest. When barley crops are maturing in spring, large armyworm caterpillars climb plants and can chew through the stems, causing the heads to fall to the ground. Damage to wheat and oat crops occurs less frequently and is usually minor compared to damage in barley because the stems are thicker and leaf defoliation does not usually result in yield loss. Armyworms are seldom a serious problem in pastures.

Assessing the number of armyworm in a cereal crop can be difficult, as their movements will vary with weather conditions and feeding preference. Sometimes they are found sheltering on the ground and under leaf litter whilst on other days they will be high up on the plants or on the heads, and easily picked up using sweep nets. Larger caterpillars often prefer to hide during the day and feed at night.

The economic level for spraying armyworm in mature barley is about three large armyworm grubs per square metre of crop. The threshold for wheat or oats is much higher as only grains are consumed and heads are very rarely dropped. Spray thresholds in these crops are more like 10 grubs per square metre of crop. For more armyworm threshold information, refer to DPIRD’s Management of armyworm in cereal crops page.

A number of effective insecticides are registered for the control of armyworm if required (see DPIRD’s 2022 Winter Spring Insecticide Guide). However, their effectiveness is dependent on good penetration into the crop. This can be difficult to achieve in high-yielding, thick canopy crops, especially when caterpillars are resting under leaf litter at the base of plants. Spraying late in the afternoon or evening is recommended as armyworm is predominately a night feeder. Spray withholding periods need to be observed.

Distinguishing characteristics of a Fall armyworm caterpillar highlighted
Defining characteristics of the fall armyworm caterpillar. Image courtesy of DPIRD.

Growers should be mindful to distinguish the more common armyworms from the recently introduced Fall armyworm caterpillars. The FAW differs from our endemic species of armyworm by having a spotted pattern of dots and a distinctive inverted white Y marking on the head area, which the common armyworm caterpillars do not have. For more information refer to the 2020 PestFax Issue 14 article How to distinguish Fall armyworm caterpillars from other endemic caterpillars.

Lesser and native budworm

Native budworm caterpillars have black hairs and lesser budworm caterpillars have white hairs along the body. The colour of the bodies can vary and is not indicative.
Native budworm caterpillars have black hairs and lesser budworm caterpillars have white hairs along the body. The colour of the bodies can vary and is not indicative. Photos courtesy of Dustin Severtson (DPIRD).

Lesser budworm (which is known to attack cereal crops) caterpillars can be distinguished from native budworm caterpillars by comparing the colour of the hairs along their bodies. Lesser budworm caterpillars have white hairs while native budworm have black hairs (see image above).

Native budworm has been known on occasion to chew into glumes and flag leaves on wheat plants, particularly in the Geraldton port zone. Although cereals are not a common host of native budworm, their presence in cereal crops and feeding in the past has likely come from a combination of abnormally high moth pressure from long distance migrations and moths laying eggs on wild radish and volunteer canola, lupin or pulse plants in the wheat crop which then transfer onto wheat plants. Preliminary DPIRD results from a GRDC co-funded project has shown that native budworm moths are heavily deterred from laying eggs on wheat plants when forced to do so within insect-proof cages. When larvae were forced onto wheat plants, variable levels of damage occurred from very little leaf damage to approximately half of the flag leaf chewed and about half of glumes chewed into. This damage was done from one larva per plant. However, many of the larvae either died prematurely or pupated at a much smaller size than on a favoured host such as faba bean or lupin, indicating that wheat is not a favoured host. DPIRD research scientists are continuing research to compare larvae numbers with crop damage and what that equates to in terms of larvae per 10 sweeps of an insect sweep net.

As we head into spring, growers and consultants are encouraged to monitor crops, identify caterpillars and send reports of suspect budworm in wheat crops to the DPIRD PestFacts WA service for identification.

Pesticide options for controlling budworm caterpillars can be found in DPIRD’s 2022 winter spring insecticide guide.

For more information on budworm refer to DPIRD’s Management and economic thresholds for native budworm and the 2022 PestFacts WA Issue 12 article Native budworm activity update.


For more information on caterpillars contact:

  • Technical officer Alan Lord, South Perth on +61 (0)8 9368 3758
  • Research scientist Svetlana Micic, Albany on +61 (0)8 9892 8591
  • Research scientist Saleh Adnan, Geraldton on +61 (0)8 9956 8524.



Article authors: Cindy Webster (DPIRD Narrogin) and Dustin Severtson (DPIRD Northam).

Diamondback moth update

  • Eastern and Northern grainbelt
  • Bonnie Rock
  • Kalannie
  • Wailki
  • Beacon
  • Eradu
  • Walkaway
  • Mullewa
Two diamondback moth larvae captured by sweep netting canola
Two diamondback moth larvae captured by sweep netting canola. Photo courtesy of Amber Balfour-Cunningham (DPIRD).

Diamondback moth (DBM) caterpillar numbers have increased in canola crops in some eastern and northern grainbelt areas with some being above threshold and requiring insecticide application. Earliest germinated and/or stressed canola crops in the eastern and northern regions seem to be experiencing the highest DBM pressure at the moment.

Growers and agronomists are encouraged to inspect canola crops with an insect sweep net and be prepared to act to prevent economic damage.

Ty Henning (Ty’s Agri) reports that many canola crops at Bonnie Rock and Kalannie have above threshold numbers of DBM larvae, with more than 100 caterpillars per 10 sweeps.

Technical Officer Dave Nicholson (DPIRD) has found an average of 195 caterpillars (range 133 to 244) per 10 sweeps in an early podding crop at Wialki this week. This is up from two weeks ago where it was an average of 49 (range 30 to 62) per 10 sweeps. The crop was sprayed with 20 mL/ha of Trojan (gamma-cyhalothrin) three weeks ago, which DBM are fairly resistant to.

A grower at Beacon also had an increase in DBM larvae in an early podding crop from an average of 59 caterpillars (range 36 to 81) per 10 sweeps two weeks ago to an average of 70 (range 66 to 95) per 10 sweeps this week.

Peter Elliot-Lockhart (Elders) has been finding some canola crops in the Eradu and Walkaway areas with over 100 DBM caterpillars per 10 sweeps, but generally low numbers elsewhere (below 30 per 10 sweeps). Peter noted that he saw more DBM larvae in stressed crops, such as canola on sandier soil.

Another agronomist reported increased numbers of DBM larvae in the Mullewa and northern Geraldton regions.

However, canola focus crops being monitored by DPIRD, Mingenew Irwin Group, West Midlands Group and Liebe Group have consistently experienced low or no DBM larvae west and south of Kellerberrin. Ten focus crops being monitored by South East Agronomy Research in the Esperance region continue to find very low or no DBM larvae in sweeps but they have found increased numbers in some early sown (early germinated) canola crops, this was previously reported.

For information on DBM thresholds, insecticide resistance and strategic managementrefer to the GRDC GroundCover article Tactics to manage diamondback moth.

To read about previous DBM activity this season refer to the 2022 PestFacts WA Issue 9 article Diamondback moth.

For more DBM information refer to:

For more information contact:

  • Research scientist Svetlana Micic, Albany on +61 (0)8 9892 8591
  • Technical officer Alan Lord, South Perth on +61 (0)8 9368 3758.



Article authors: Dustin Severtson (DPIRD Northam).

Native budworm

  • Ambania
  • Nolba
  • Moonyoonooka
Native budworm caterpillar feeding on a canola pod
A native budworm caterpillar feeding on a canola pod. Photo courtesy of DPIRD.

This week Research scientist Saleh Adnan (DPIRD) found an average of five budworm caterpillars per 10 sweeps in a podding canola crop near Ambania, plus an average of one caterpillar per 10 sweeps in late flowering canola crops near Nolba and Moonyoonooka.

Moth trapping update

  • Usual automated and manual trapping locations

Over the last week our traps have captured larger moth numbers at: Ambania (19 moths), Kirwan (15), Northampton (8), Moonyoonooka (4), Maya (4) and Nolba (4).

More results of this week's trappings are available for viewing at the department’s Native budworm moth numbers 2022.

A mapped view of the native budworm trap captures is available at Cesar Australia’s MothTrapVisWA page. Viewers need to select the desired trapping date range.

Pesticide options for the control of native budworm can be found in DPIRD’s 2022 winter spring insecticide guide

Detailed information on this pest can be found at the department’s Management and economic thresholds for native budworm.

To read about previous native budworm activity this season refer to the 2022 PestFacts WA Issue 12 article Native budworm activity update.


For more information contact:

  • Technical officer Alan Lord, South Perth +61 (0)8 9368 3758
  • Research scientist Saleh Adnan, Geraldton on +61 (0)8 9956 8524.



Article author: Alan Lord (DPIRD South Perth).

Wheat powdery mildew fungicide resistance testing

Powdery mildew in a lower wheat canopy.
Powdery mildew on wheat plants. Photo courtesy of Andrea Hills (DPIRD).

Growers and consultants in the Esperance port zone can submit wheat powdery mildew samples for free fungicide resistance testing.

Plant pathologist Andrea Hills (DPIRD), in collaboration with CCDM, is collecting wheat powdery mildew samples to test for fungicide resistance. The wheat powdery mildew pathogen is at high risk of evolving fungicide resistance and is already resistant to strobilurin fungicides and insensitive to some DMIs in certain eastern state districts.

Growers and consultants are welcome to drop off wheat plants with young (white, bright) pustules to Andrea Hills at the Esperance DPIRD office. It is better if the plant samples are submitted at the start of the week.

To read about previous powdery mildew activity this season refer to 2022 PestFacts WA Issue 11 article Wheat powdery mildew in the Geraldton port zone and Issue 7 article Powdery mildew in barley and wheat.

For more information on powdery mildew visit DPIRD’s Diagnosing powdery mildew in cereals page.


For more information, and to arrange for testing, contact:



Article authors: Andrea Hills (DPIRD Esperance) and Cindy Webster (DPIRD Narrogin).