Update on ‘herringbone caterpillars’ and armyworms

Armyworms and ‘herringbone caterpillars’ continue to be found together in cereal and lentil crops in the Victorian Mallee, and in one extreme case they have wiped out vast areas of a wheat crop in the Victorian Wimmera.

Where have they been reported?

Since the last issue of PestFacts south-eastern, armyworms (Persectania dyscrita) in conjunction with what we are calling ‘herringbone caterpillars’ (most likely Proteuxoa atrisquamata) have been found in several lentil and barley crops, southeast of Swan Hill in the Victorian Mallee. As with most of other reports we have had this season, the damage has predominantly consisted of the lower branches of lentil crops being severed, and in cereal crops, damage to leaves.

In one case, a combination of armyworms and ‘herringbone caterpillars’ has completely defoliated the majority of two wheat paddocks on sandy soils, north of Nhill in the Victorian Wimmera (see photo). The affected paddocks (owned by an absentee farmer who had not seen this damage occur) have been planted to wheat for the third year running, with the stubble left standing; they also have a considerable ryegrass weed problem. In damaged areas, the green leaf content of wheat plants (about 10 cm high) had been entirely stripped away as the caterpillars fed in a mass moving outwards in search of more food.

About these caterpillars

For more information on observations of ‘herringbone caterpillars’ refer to this PestNote. For comprehensive information on armyworms, including their occurrence, lifecycle, behaviour and management strategies, see this armyworm PestNote.

A native species of armyworm. Photo by Cesar Australia

Our advice

Ensure correct identification of caterpillars before deciding on the most appropriate management action required. The use of insecticides in early spring to control caterpillars may be necessary to protect crops (although be aware of the trade-off in eliminating the beneficials that, in many cases, moderate aphid and caterpillar populations. The loss of beneficials can often induce earlier or secondary pest outbreaks. In the case of armyworms, our model predicts the current generation is very likely to cease feeding and pupate by mid-late September, well before most cereal crops are susceptible to head lopping.


Sources of field reports

Rick Rundell-Gordon – Swan Hill Chemicals (Victorian Mallee)

Alana Govender and Garry McDonald – cesar

Matthew Zanker – Grower (Victorian Wimmera)

Cover image: Photo by Andrew Weeks, Cesar Australia

What is Pestfacts south-eastern?

PestFacts south-eastern keeps growers and advisers informed about invertebrate pests and beneficials in broadacre crops and pastures during the winter-cropping season in Victoria and southern New South Wales.


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Since 2019 PestFacts south-eastern has been running through IPMforGrains: Best Practice Insect Pest Management, a project delivered by the National Pest Information Network (Cesar Australia, DPIRD, QDAF, NSW DPI, and SARDI). This project aims to provide grain growers and advisors with information on invertebrate grain pest occurrence and equip industry with the knowledge needed to implement integrated pest management practices. This initiative is a GRDC investment and includes in-kind contributions from all project partner organisations.

The online PestFacts south-eastern collection also includes a selection of articles published between 2015 – 2018 when the service was run through a previous GRDC investment, The National Pest Information Service.

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