Invasive pest, the fall armyworm, identified in Geraldton

Geraldton Guardian
Fall armyworm larva pictured on corn in northern Western Australia.
Camera IconFall armyworm larva pictured on corn in northern Western Australia. Credit: Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development/Supplied

There has been another sighting of an invasive pest that was first found in Western Australia in March, after a single adult moth was caught in Geraldton recently.

The fall armyworm, native to the American tropics, has been called a major biosecurity threat to cultivators in Western Australia by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.

The department’s senior research scientist Helen Spafford said vegetable and grain growers in the area should be vigilant and report suspected fall armyworm to the department.

“Accurately identifying fall armyworm will be important to determine the management options that can be used,” she said.

“This can be challenging because many caterpillars already present in the area will look similar to fall armyworm.”

“Young, fall armyworm larvae are light coloured with a darker head. As they develop the body darkens, becoming more brown with white lengthwise stripes. They also develop dark spots, the pattern of which is important, with spines.”

The fall armyworm is known to damage a wide variety of crops and on February 24, the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests concluded it was not feasible to eradicate the pest in Australia.

Living up to its reputation for fast dispersal and spread, the fall armyworm was previously identified in Carnarvon in May.

This month, in Geraldton, a single adult moth was caught in a pheromone trap, however, no larvae or feeding damage has been found.

DPIRD research scientist Dusty Severtson said an extensive trapping program for fall armyworm was already underway.

“The potential presence and impact of fall armyworm on cereals, canola and pulse crops at various growth stages is not yet known,” he said.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development is reminding producers, agronomists and homeowners to report suspected armyworm damage to DPIRD’s Pest and Disease Information Service on 9368 3080, email padis@dpird.wa.gov.au, or use the MyPestGuide reporter app.

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