Wireworms and Other Soil Dwelling Insects

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

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Corn wireworm
Seedling stand loss and small injured plants due to wireworm
Wireworm damage at base of seedling corn plant
Wireworm infested field showing poor seedling stand
Corn wireworms

This complex includes wireworm, Melanotus communis and others; seed corn maggot, Delia platura; southern corn rootworm, Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi; white grubs Phyllophaga spp. and others. These insect pests cannot be managed after corn seed has been planted. Thus, their occurrence must be anticipated and preventative measures taken, if considered necessary. Accurately predicting whether any or all of these insects will occur in damaging numbers, on a field by field basis, is an impossible task. However, certain soil, crop, and cultural conditions may make the occurrence of these pests more likely and information about these factors can be used to make predictions. Poorly drained mineral soils and all organic soils typically have a higher risk of damage due to soil insects (as well as cutworms and billbugs). Weedy conditions in the previous crop (weed residue) and/or heavy growth of winter annual weeds tend to increase cutworms. Also, corn following corn, sod, or set-aside land is much more likely to be infested. No-tillage culture allows greater survival of some pests and may reduce corn seedling growth rate (due to cooler soil conditions), making the crop more susceptible to loss from soil insects. Thus, no-tillage represents a higher risk situation, especially when heavy plant residue is encountered. Historical information on crop loss to soil insects in areas or specific fields can also be used (e.g. fields that seem to have chronic wireworm problems). When a combination of these factors exist an effective at-planting soil insecticide may be beneficial (see section on choosing soil insecticide). Five-year average test results from the late 1980's, in the northeastern Coastal Plain, showed a 5.7 bushel per acre increase with the use of an at-planting soil insecticide in conventional tillage and on poorly drained soils of average pest conditions. Under no-tillage situations this increase was approximately 12 bushels per acre.

A large proportion of the North Carolina corn acreage does not show any of the positive soil insect factors mentioned above (e.g. fields are rotated, conventionally planted, on well drained soils, and without a history of seedling loss to soil insects) and the probability of infestation does not justify treatment.

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This page (http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/plymouth/pubs/ent/crwireworm.html) was created by John W. Van Duyn Ph D. Extension Entomologist and Wayne Modlin, Res. Tech. III.

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

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.