Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) is now considered established in Australia. It has been detected by Biosecurity Queensland at several sites on mainland Australia including the Northern Territory, Western Australia, New South Wales and recently in Victoria. Fall armyworm has been confirmed in sugarcane on the Atherton Tablelands region, on cane bordering heavily infested maize crops.
Fall armyworm is an invasive pest and its larval (caterpillar) stage feeds on more than 350 plant species, and impacts cultivated grasses such as maize, rice, sorghum, sugarcane and wheat, as well as fruit and vegetable and cotton crops. Fall armyworm is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, and since 2016 has spread to Africa, the Indian subcontinent, China and South East Asia.
Adult moths are highly mobile and can fly long distances (up to 200km). This pest is also prolific, reproducing at a rate of several generations per year. Australia’s climate and the production of suitable hosts are favourable for fall armyworm to establish and spread. Australia’s environment and native flora may also be impacted.
DAF Queensland is continuing to undertake surveillance across key farming areas. The National Management Group has determined that it is not technically feasible to eradicate fall armyworm from Australia.
The information sheet below has more detailed information on the sugarcane industry’s response to fall armyworm.
SRA and industry partners have worked with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) on an emergency use permit for Permethrin to control fall armyworm. This permit allows a person to use the product in the manner specified in this permit in Queensland and New South Wales. The APVMA also advises that trichlorfon and chlorpyrifos can also be used against FAW in sugarcane (where the product states use against ‘armyworms’ but doesn’t specify species). These chemicals require careful and considered use, given their environmental risk.
Correct identification of the insect is very important. Overuse (or use when not required) of this type of product could potentially lead to insecticide resistance and impact natural enemies or beneficial insects.
Growers are encouraged to be on the lookout for signs of fall armyworm. Biosecurity Queensland is the main point of contact for identification of potential fall armyworm and they should be contacted on 13 25 23. Good quality photographs of the suspect caterpillar and plant damage, wherever possible, would assist with this identification. Farms will not be placed under quarantine if fall armyworm is reported and found, and early detection will assist in the response. The images to the right are courtesy of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Images by James Castner, the University of Florida and Sanbi.org.
Fall armyworm is an invasive pest, which has been reported to feed on more than 350 plant species, and impacts economically important cultivated grasses such as maize, rice, sorghum, sugarcane and wheat, as well as fruit, vegetable and cotton crops.
Fall armyworm is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, and since 2016 has spread to Africa, the Indian subcontinent, China and South East Asia.
Adult moths are highly mobile and can fly long distances with suitable weather conditions. This pest is also prolific, reproducing at a rate of several generations per year.
The larvae can attack leaves, shoots, stems and fruit. Plants of different ages, from seedlings to mature plants, can be affected.
Australia’s climate and the production of suitable hosts are favourable for fall armyworm to establish and spread. Australia’s environment and native flora may also be impacted.
Depending on the plant, fall armyworm can cause significant and sudden crop damage and collapse if left unchecked.
Symptoms of fall armyworm include leaf damage such as pinholes, windowing, tattered leaf margins and defoliation of plants.
Growers should also look out for tiny larvae, less than 1 mm, that are more active at night, eating pin holes and transparent windows in leaves and bigger larvae grazing on leaves, stems and fruit, and leaving behind insect excrement.
In grass-like plants, larvae are often in plant whorls where leaves branch from the stalk.
Distinguishing fall armyworm from similar looking moths or caterpillars requires specialist diagnosis. Common armyworm species include: Mythimna convecta (common armyworm), Mythimna separata (northern armyworm), Spodoptera exempta (dayfeeding armyworm) and Spodoptera mauritia (lawn armyworm).
Fall armyworm represents a new biosecurity threat for Queensland (and Australia).
It is not currently listed as prohibited or restricted matter in Queensland’s biosecurity legislation, however there are requirements under the Biosecurity Regulation 2016 in relation to the movement of plant material that may carry pests.
Far North Queensland is a high-risk area for the introduction of plant pests and diseases from nearby Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. The spread of pests into the rest of the state poses a significant risk to our agricultural industries.
Two far northern biosecurity zones have been established in the northern half of Cape York Peninsula to control movement of risk items that may carry pests and diseases southwards to production areas. Plants, plant pests, soils and related equipment must not be moved out of these zones without a biosecurity instrument permit.
Eggs may be laid on the underside or the top side of leaves. The eggs will look a lot like other endemic armyworm/cluster caterpillar egg masses. As with other endemic Spodoptera species, it is likely they may also lay on man-made structures.
Growers and producers should already have strong on-farm biosecurity measures to protect their crops from pests and diseases.
Crops should be monitored for signs of leaf damage leading to defoliation of the crop and report suspected sightings to assist with early detection, and potential treatment.
Good farm hygiene should be implemented for weed control to remove hosts that could build populations.
More information on farm biosecurity is available at farmbiosecurity.com.au or biosecurity.qld.gov.au.
Anyone who comes across fall armyworm is strongly encouraged to photograph and report suspected sightings to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries on 13 25 23, their agronomist, local biosecurity officer or extension officer.
Images can be sent to the DAF Customer Service Centre; call them on 13 25 23 for advice on how to do this.