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Beware of European Pepper Moth

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August 13, 2019

Announcer: Farm and family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today, we're talking about how you should beware of the European pepper moth. Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Blake Layton, Mississippi State University Extension Entomologist. Dr. Layton, I understand the European pepper moth is a new pest found at garden nurseries. What does this do to plants, and should we as homeowners be worried about this?

Blake Layton: This is not really so much a pest for homeowners to be concerned about right now, the real concern is for our commercial nurserymen, whether they're growing plants in an outdoor nursery, or especially in a greenhouse.

Amy Myers: What does this do to the plants in these nurseries?

Blake Layton: It's a caterpillar pest. Most caterpillars we think about eating leaves up in the top of the plant, but this doesn't do that. It starts out as a small caterpillar, often feeding in the growing media. It feeds on decaying organic matter, and dead leaves that fall onto that growing media, and then it will start feeding on live leaves touching the surface. But eventually, it'll start feeding on the plant stem, boring in the stem, girdling the stem. A lot of times the bad damage looks almost like, it's analogous to what you see where you've seen a beaver chewing on a pine tree, so they girdle the pine tree. The same thing with this pepper moth, feeding on these ornamental plants.

Amy Myers: What plants should we be concerned about the most with this pest?

Blake Layton: This thing has a very broad host list, so it will attack ornamental plants like chrysanthemums, we've seen bad infestations in chrysanthemums this year. It'll attack poinsettias and cause problems with them, things like begonias, and Gerbers, and geraniums. A big host of those. It's called European pepper moth because it does attack peppers, as well as tomatoes and cucumbers. Of course that's not a big issue in most greenhouses, could possibly be. And it'll even attack woody ornamentals, like azaleas, as well as things like roses and lantanas, and even elm trees being grown in nurseries. And outdoors, it can occur in a lot of our common weeds.

Amy Myers: These pests are easy to overlook, so how can we be vigilant and detect them?

Blake Layton: The first step there is just for nurserymen to become aware of this thing and learn what it looks like. The adult moth is a tiny little moth, only about a half inch long, maybe got a three quarter inch wingspan. They mostly fly at night, so they're not seen that often. And the caterpillars are down there in the growing media, so they're hard to see. A mature caterpillar will be about an inch long, but the thing to watch for is the damage that they cause. If you start seeing something girdling the stem of your plant, and you can't figure out what it is, start looking in the soil, especially if you see silken trails on the surface of that growing media. That's an indication that you've got European pepper moth. The little caterpillars are kind of a gray in color, they're kind of the color of the soil, so they're hard to spot. But that silken tubing, that webbing, is easy to spot, and when they're up in the plant, sometimes they will crawl up the plant and feed on the stem, and there they create a lot of webbing, and it will be filled with their frass, it'll just be a dirty area there that you dig around in and maybe you'll find a caterpillar there.

Amy Myers: Is there any way that we mistaken this moth for something else?

Blake Layton: This is a fairly unique insect, just because of the nature of the way it feeds. The little moths themselves, like say, they're really unique looking once growers see a picture of 'em, if you look at 'em up close. When they're at rest, a live moth, they tend to have their abdomen curled up and pointing up from between their wings, and the caterpillars are kind of unique for what we find in the growing media. But you'd have to see a picture and learn how to identify 'em there. Now, there is a very useful tool for growers that are wondering whether they have this to get, and that is some pheromone traps. There's a pheromone trap that works well for this, you can order three or four of those, put those in your greenhouse, and if you've got the moth there, you're gonna catch 'em, because they're highly attracted to this pheromone. And if you wanna find out how to order these, your local county extension office has information on sources for these particular pheromone traps.

Amy Myers: Tell me about treatment if we do find this pest.

Blake Layton: So, that's a little trick for this caterpillar pest. Because of where it's feeding, it's hard to reach with the insecticides. It's down there on the soil surface, you're trying to spray an insecticide over the canopy, and the insecticide just doesn't reach. The best treatment we've found is a product called Acephate to commercial nurserymen, are familiar with that works well, but you still have to take care to get it where those caterpillars are feeding. Other treatments, other contact insecticides can work, but they're not as effective as we might like 'em to be.

Amy Myers: If we have questions or anything, or wanna find more information, nurserymen can go by their country Mississippi State University Extension office, right?

Blake Layton: That's a great resource, and these county agents all have a little information about this European pepper moth and how to get these pheromone traps.

Amy Myers: Today we've been speaking with Dr. Blake Layton, entomologist. I'm Amy Taylor Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology

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