This is a familiar garden pest we encounter every season. Better known as the Tobacco Budworm it is a pest of many of our favorite plants. It is also an agricultural pest of both tobacco and cotton.
The caterpillar of this moth feeds on the buds and petals of geranium, petunia, snapdragon and nicotiana – sometimes even roses. Preferring floral buds, they drill into these hollowing them out completely. Their frass (insect poop) is usually the same color as the petals.
Budworms survive the winter as a pupa in the soil. Emerging as an adult moth in late spring, females lay one egg each on a floral bud. The caterpillars hatch and eat non stop for about a month until they are 10 times their original size, then pupate in the soil for a few weeks. This cycle repeats itself producing several generations a season. The Fall generation remains dormant until spring.
It is a very difficult caterpillar to control as it has become resistant to many insecticides. It also does not respond well to the biological Bt spray as they are protected inside buds until they are large enough to be unaffected by it. Unfortunately, using stronger pesticides may damage flower buds.
Budworm drill holes in buds and eat from the inside
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Budworms as they get older will grow and munch on the entire flower
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The adult egg laying moth.
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written by Peter Morris BSc.MSc.MBA