The armyworm march has begun in Wilmington, but don’t fear. Gunnell Landscaping will defend your turf. In late summer almost every year, armyworms invade turfgrass throughout the Carolinas and literally eat your lawn. The fall armyworm, known for marching in large “armies”, has been a lawn pest of North Carolina for many years, and the Wilmington area is no exception. However, the appearance of these pests and the damage caused seems to have increased in recent years.
Description & Life-Cycle of Fall Armyworms
The army worm looks more like a slender-bodied caterpillar than a true worm. This is the larval stage of its life cycle and the most menacing period of its development in terms of lawn or crop damage. The larva in its “worm state” is 1 inch to 1½ inches long when fully grown. Its color varies from green to brown, to almost black.
The armyworm adult is actually a harmless moth with a wingspan of about 1 to 1½ inches. The hind wings are white; front wings are dark gray and mottled with light and dark splotches. The adult moths are identifiable by a whitish dot in the forewing, but the moths are only active at night and thus are seldom seen.
The fall armyworm is not a year-round resident of North Carolina, but rather egg-laying armyworm moths migrate north from Florida and the Gulf Coast areas throughout the spring and summer and begin to arrive here in June, with new moths continuing to appear as late as November.
Female moths can lay 1,000 eggs in clusters of 50 to 300 eggs. Two to 10 days later the small larvae emerge and scatter in search of food, which in this case is your lush lawn you’ve spent all summer taking care of.
After feeding for 2 to 3 weeks, the larvae dig into the ground about an inch to pupate. Within 2 weeks, a new population of moths emerges and flies to a new location as the cycle repeats. In other words whether, it’s worms or moths, the “army” stays on the move looking for more food and you only have a short window of time to deal with these lawn pests as they can go from egg to pupa in only 2 weeks. That also means they can consume your lawn that fast if left undiagnosed and untreated.
Fall Armyworm Damage & Warning Signs
The fall armyworm feeds on a wide variety of plants, but prefers grasses, especially coastal grasses like St. Augustine and Bermuda grass. The dry summer weather we have had in the Wilmington area creates a condition for early and sustained periods of infestation. Fall armyworms are usually more severe in abnormally dry summers because the caterpillars seek out irrigated turf for their food as other sources have dried up. Think about it this way … the more lush your lawn is, the more attractive target you become.
With an infestation, the insect will devour grasses down to the ground, leaving circular bare areas. Fall armyworm caterpillars feed only above the ground on the foliage of the turf. Discolored turfgrass is often the first sign of fall armyworms. The damage also begins along one edge of the grass and will continue to the mid rib of the leaf blade. Large numbers of birds feeding in an area may also be a sign of an infestation.
Fall armyworms feed any time of day or night, but they are most active early in the morning or late in the evening. When abundant, fall army worms eat all available food and move in mass just like an army on the march to adjoining areas.
If you suspect a problem or have already sustained damage due to armyworms in the Wilmington, NC area, contact us via email so that we can inspect the soil for evidence of these lawn pests and can recommend treatment if needed.