Stalk borer

John Van Duyn, North Carolina State University, Entomology Extension Specialist

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Stalk borer (aka common stalk borer) damages corn seedlings and small plants up to about the eight to 10 leaf stage; larger plants are attacked but generally tolerate the injury. This insect has a very broad host range, infesting many weeds and some cultivated plants. Eggs over-winter on weeds (usually grassy weeds) and larvae hatch around corn planting time. Once larvae get too big to tunnel small stemmed plants they crawl to larger stemmed hosts. Corn and large stemmed weeds (e.g. dock, cockleburr) meet their needs. The caterpillars tunnel into the side of corn plants or enter the plant through the whorl. Tunneled plants are partially cut-off from within and quickly die or develop "dead heart". On a per plant basis damage can be very severe but infestation is usually confined to the field edge rows. However, in no-tillage situations where grass hosts are available to the egg laying moths in early fall, spring infestation may be scattered thorough out the field. There is one generation per year.

Management of stalk borer is seldom necessary. However, the pest does respond to rotation and management of grassy weeds immediately surrounding and within fields to be planted to corn. In fields to be no-tillage planted, management of grasses in the preceding season can reduce infestation. Infestations are usually discovered too late to remove larvae from within the plants by spraying insecticide.

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This page ( was created by John W. Van Duyn Ph D. Extension Entomologist and Wayne Modlin, and Steven Roberson.

Date Created 1/30/01.
Last revised on 1/31/04.

Published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service

Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are offered to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. North Carolina State University at Raleigh, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.

Caution: The information and recommendations in these Notes were developed for North Carolina conditions and may not apply elsewhere.