Summary Top

Spinetailed weevils are medium sized weevils that attack germinating and seedling cereals. Larvae are white legless grubs with a yellow head. Adults are similar to spotted vegetable weevils. Dispersal is very slow so it takes a number of years in a pasture phase before enough weevils accumulate to cause crop damage.

Occurrence Top

The spinetailed weevil (sometimes referred to as ‘cereal curculio’) is a widely distributed insect native to parts of Australia. It is found in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.

Spinetailed weevil occurrence as an agricultural pest is relatively rare. It became a pest when tillage practices changed during the 1950s from long-term spring-prepared fallows to short-term autumn prepared fallows.

Description Top

Adults are greyish-black in colour, have a typical weevil-like snout and grow up to 7 mm long. The wing covers of the females are tapered at the ends to form two spines. Males lack these spines and are usually slightly smaller than females. Adults are unable to fly. Larvae are white, legless grubs with a yellow head capsule and grow up to 8 mm long.

Adult spinetailed weevils, female (left), male (right). Photo by GS Dearman, SARDI
Spinetailed weevil larva. Photo by SARDI
Spinetailed weevil pupa in earthen cell. Photo by SARDI

Lifecycle Top

Spinetailed weevils have one generation per year. Sexually immature adults emerge from the soil in November. Autumn rain stimulates summer sheltering adults to become active and mate. Because adults are flightless they lay eggs in the soil close to where they emerge. Eggs hatch after 2-3 weeks in autumn after the opening rains. Larvae pass through five instar stages and pupate in spring and adults emerge during spring through to early summer.

Lifecycle, critical monitoring and management periods for the spinetailed weevil. Infographic by Cesar Australia

Generally spinetailed weevil requires 3 or more consecutive years in grass dominant pastures prior to cereal crops to reach damaging numbers

Behaviour Top

After emergence in November, adults feed on early summer annual weeds before sheltering under stones or soil clods during summer. Rains in autumn cause resumption of feeding and mating. After hatching, larvae feed on germinating grasses or cereals and can also feed on soil organic matter. Larvae feed during winter and spring.

Similar to Top

Other weevils, especially spotted vegetable weevil.

The larvae of spinetailed weevil can only be distinguished from spotted vegetable weevil by examining the spiracles under a microscope.

Crops attacked Top

Cereals and pasture grasses.

Damage Top

Larvae attack cereals at the seed, seedling and tillering stages. They may feed underground on germinating seeds just after sowing, or bore into underground stems of seedlings, causing them to wither and die, or bore into the base of tillers. Seed or seedling death results in thinned or bare patches in crops. Damage is most severe in cereal crops sown after 3 or more years of grass dominant pastures.

Spinetailed weevil damage in wheat. Photo by SARDI
Spinetailed weevil damaged vs. undamaged wheat. Photo by SARDI

Monitor Top

Cereals are most susceptible when sown into paddocks that have not been cropped for a number of years. Inspect these paddocks prior to sowing and look for poor emergence and bare patches after sowing in late autumn/early winter. If poor establishment has occurred, search for the presence of larvae by digging the soil. Search an area of 30 cm x 30 cm square and to a depth of 10 cm. Repeat this 5 to 10 times across the paddock.

Economic thresholds Top

Treatment should be considered if there are 10 or more larvae per square metre (Bailey 2007).

Management options Top


Soil dwelling pathogens such as the fungus Beauvaria may kill some larvae. There are no known predators that effectively control spinetailed weevils.

Avoid sowing cereals into long-term pasture paddocks.


Crop rotations that include only one or, at the most, two years of pasture between cereal crops will reduce pest occurrence. Use higher sowing rates to compensate for larvae attack on seed (see chemical option for more detail). Control alternate hosts, including grass weeds and capeweed, during late spring, summer and early autumn to reduce the survival rate of adults and minimise egg numbers.


There are no foliar insecticides registered against this species, however chlorpyrifos is registered as an insecticide seed dressing against the spinetailed weevil. Seed treatments can reduce the feeding damage to cereal seedlings however there may still be some plant death before the larvae are killed. If there are more than 100 larvae per m2, use a sowing rate of 95 kg/ha to compensate for the damage caused before the larvae are killed.

Control of larvae can only be achieved with a seed dressing

Acknowledgements Top

This article was compiled by Paul Umina (cesar) and Bill Kimber (SARDI).

References/Further Reading Top

Allen PG. 1973. Biology of Desiantha caudate Pascoe (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) in South Australia. Journal of the Australian Entomological Society 12: 201-206.

Bailey PT. 2007. Pests of field crops and pastures: Identification and Control. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, Australia.

Grierson IT and Allen PG (1977) Cereal curculio (Desiantha caudata) damage to wheat following different pre-sowing tillage programmes. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture and Animal Husbandry 17: 466 – 46.

Henry K, Bellati J, Umina P and Wurst M. 2008. Crop Insects: the Ute Guide Southern Grain Belt Edition. Government of South Australia PIRSA and GRDC.

Date Version Author(s) Reviewed by
January 2015 1.0 Paul Umina (cesar) and Bill Kimber (SARDI) Garry McDonald (cesar)

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