PESTS OF TOBACCO
North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Extracted from INSECT and related PESTS of FIELD CROPS (AG-271)
Placed on the Web 11/96 by the Center for Integrated Pest Management, NCSU
With approximately 154,656 hectares (382,000 acres) devoted to tobacco in 1980, North
Carolina produces well over 40 percent of all tobacco in the nation. The Coastal Plain and
northern Piedmont counties lead other states in the production of flue-cured tobacco, while
burley, an air-cured tobacco, is an important crop on small farms in the Mountain counties.
Although many insect pests attack tobacco from the time it is seeded until it is marketed, their
importance varies from area to area from year to year. The following key has been subdivided
based on the growing schedule for flue-cured tobacco.
Key to Tobacco Pests
A. Soil insects which attack plant bed tobacco by uprooting plants, boring into stems or stalks, or
feeding on roots (Fig. A to B).
B. Insects which attack plant bed and field tobacco.
- Green June beetle larva -
This large white, six-legged grub has a blackish-brown
head and is about 5 cm long when fully developed (Fig. A). It crawls on its back on the soil
surface or burrows in the soil and uproots seedlings
- Southern mole cricket -
About 32 mm long, the adult is brown with short front
wings (the long membranous hind wings are usually tucked under the front wings) and shovel-like
front legs for digging (Fig. B). The nymph is similar but smaller and wingless; both life stages
uproot seedlings by tunneling and feeding on the roots.
Chewing insects damaging leaves or stems.
- Insects which bore into stems or stalks or feed on roots.
- Tobacco flea beetle larva
- This white, 12-segmented larva, 4.3 to 4.8 mm
long when fully developed, has a brownish head, three pairs of legs near the head, and a proleg on
the last abdominal segment. It may kill newly set plants by feeding on roots or
tunneling in the stalk.
- Insects damaging leaves by sucking sap.
- Green peach aphid - This aphid is a soft-bodied, pear-shaped, winged or
wingless insect about 2.0 mm long with a pair of long cornicles (tailpipe-like appendages) at the
end of the abdomen. The adult has a pale yellow, green, or yellowish-green abdomen
with a dark, dorsal blotch; the nymph resembles the adult but is light green and never winged.
Both life stages damage plants by sucking sap from leaves, causing curled, stunted, distorted
leaves, contaminated with honeydew and sooty mold fungi.
C. Insects which primarily attack field tobacco.
- Beetles - These insects have hard, shell-like forewings (wing covers or
elytra) which meet in a straight line down the middle of the back (Fig. A to C). They may or
may not be able to fly.
- Tobacco flea beetle
- This very small (about 1.5 mm long), oval,
black, jumping beetle (Fig. A) chews small round holes in leaves giving them a "shothole"
- Vegetable weevil -
About 6.4 mm long, this brown, snout beetle
(Fig. B) has a light, V-shaped mark on its wing covers. It attacks seedlings and newly set
plants feeding on both leaves and buds, leaving irregular holes.
- Whitefringed beetles
- Several species of these black, 11 mm-long
beetles leave sawtooth cuts on the outer edges of tobacco leaves. Covered with grayish scales,
each of these snout beetles has two longitudinal stripes down its back and a marginal band of
long, white hairs (Fig. C). These beetles cannot fly.
- Cutworms - Cutworm caterpillars
have three pairs of legs near their heads
and five pairs of prolegs (Fig. A). Several species of these thick-bodied, grayish to dark brown
larvae, up to 50 mm in length, hide curled up in the soil by day and feed at night on seedlings or
newly set plants in the field. They sever the stems of young plants, cut off leaves, or chew large
holes in the leaves.
- Vegetable weevil larva -
Soft-bodied, legless, and pale green, this larva is
about 10 mm long when mature (Fig. B). Like its adult form, this larva feeds on both leaves
and buds, leaving irregular holes.
- Insects that feed on roots, bore into stems, or sever stems.
- Cutworms - See section
B.3.b. of this key for description.
- Whitefringed beetle larvae
- These yellowish-white, legless, 12-segmented
grubs, up to 13 mm in length, have small, round, pale heads (Fig. A). They feed on roots,
stunting or killing tobacco plants.
- Wireworms - These hard, elongated, yellowish-brown larvae (up to 19 mm
long when fully developed) tunnel in the stalks of newly set plants, stunting or killing the plants.
The tobacco wireworm's last segment terminates in a V-shaped notch, while the southern potato
wireworm has an almost closed, oval notch (Fig. B).
- Insects damaging foliage by sucking sap.
- Suckfly - The adult is a green-black, slender plant bug, about 3.3 mm long,
with long slender legs and antennae; the fully developed nymph is green with reddish
eyes and two pairs of wing pads. Both life stages suck plant sap from late-season tobacco,
reducing the coloration, weight, and thickness of cured leaves. Excrement is present on the
underside of leaves.
- Green peach aphid
- See section B.2.a. of this key.
- Insects damaging leaves by chewing holes.
- Caterpillars - These soft-bodied moth larvae have three pairs of legs near
their heads and three to five pairs of prolegs (Fig. A to C).
- Budworms - Up to 44 mm in length when mature, these moderately
hairy caterpillars vary in color from greenish-yellow or reddish-brown to near black with pale,
longitudinal stripes and scattered black spots; young larvae are cream colored or yellowish-green
with few markings. They have five pairs of prolegs (Fig. A). Damage from feeding in the bud
area becomes apparent as the leaf expands.
- Cabbage looper -
This light green larva, about 40 mm long when
fully developed, tapers in width from the rear to the head. It has three pairs of thoracic legs near
the head and three pairs of prolegs toward the rear (Fig. B). As it crawls, the looper arches
the middle of its body. It chews ragged holes in leaves, leaving only the larger leaf veins.
- Hornworms - These large, green caterpillars (Fig. C) have either
seven diagonal stripes on each side and a curved, red, posterior horn (tobacco hornworm) or eight
V-shaped markings on each side and a straight, black horn (tomato hornworm). They are 75 to 85
mm in length when fully developed.
- Potato tuberworm -
This greenish-to-pink caterpillar, 13 to 19 mm in
length when fully developed, has five pairs of prolegs (Fig. A). It tunnels between leaf surfaces
causing papery, grayish blotches which become brownish and brittle.
- Variegated cutworm -
This smooth-bodied, dark brown, mottled
larva has a distinct, pale yellow dot down the back of at least the first four abdominal segments
and has five pairs of prolegs (Fig. A). It is about 50 mm long when fully developed, and unlike
the black cutworm, it may climb tobacco plants and feed on leaves.
- Japanese beetle -
This shiny, metallic-green beetle, about 1.3 cm long, has
copper-brown wing covers and six tufts of white hairs on each side of the abdomen. It
chews numerous ragged holes in leaves and usually feeds gregariously.