May 7, 2013
Scout for Alfalfa and Clover Leaf Weevils in Alfalfa
Insect development has been slowed this spring due to below average temperatures, but as temperatures warm up expect to see alfalfa weevil larvae in southern Nebraska and slightly later, in northern Nebraska. There have already been reports of feeding in Kansas. It is time to begin scouting for alfalfa weevils and the accompanying feeding damage.
Alfalfa Weevil Life Cycle
Most alfalfa weevils overwinter as adults, become active as temperatures increase, and lay eggs. Some may lay eggs in the stem during fall and, if winter is not too severe, will successfully overwinter. These eggs will hatch earlier than those laid in spring. This is most likely to occur in southern counties.
The seasonal occurrence of alfalfa weevils does not fit this general pattern in some areas in Nebraska. In the Panhandle and in the northern tier of counties there may be two flushes of weevil larvae in the spring. In the last few years some areas of the state have received damage to regrowth after the first cutting due to a combination of late larval feeding and adult feeding. This is something to be aware of after the first cutting.
While alfalfa weevil damage has been spotty in much of Nebraska over the past few years, the potential for damage always exists. Even with the pressure of planting row crops, producers growing high quality alfalfa hay should make time to monitor fields for weevils over the next few weeks.
Clover Leaf Weevils
Clover leaf weevils (CLW) are occasionally a problem, but are vulnerable to fungus disease. These pests haven’t been a problem since the late 80s to early 90s when spring rains were rare. Dry conditions over the past several years in western Nebraska may have helped populations increase, although recent rains may have knocked down populations.
To scout for clover leaf weevil, look in the debris around the crowns during day. Scratching in the soil around the crowns and counting the number of larvae found per crown will help give a better idea of clover leaf weevil infestation. Their brown heads will help distinguish them from the black-headed alfalfa weevil. (See Table 1 for more information distinguishing the alfalfa weevil and the clover leaf weevil.)
Both the alfalfa and clover leaf weevils feed on first cutting alfalfa as larvae, and regrowth after the first cutting as adults (and sometimes larvae). While research in northeast Nebraska has shown that clover leaf weevil larva feeding does not cause yield reduction to first cutting alfalfa, alfalfa weevil feeding can cause severe losses to yield and quality of the first cutting. This is why it’s important to correctly identify the type of weevil feeding causing damage.
One way to quickly scout a field for alfalfa weevils is to use a sweep net. A 15-inch diameter net is useful and can be used for scouting other pests too. (A net is the only way to accurately scout for potato leafhoppers.) Many ag suppliers, including Great Lakes IPM, Gemplers, Forestry Suppliers, Bioquip, and others, sell field sweep nets for $30-$50.
It is essential that fields be monitored for alfalfa weevil feeding now. Damage consists of small holes and interveinal feeding on the newest leaflets near the stem tips. The larvae are small (1/16 to 3/8 inch long) and pale yellowish green, becoming a darker green when larger. These legless worms have black heads and a white stripe the length of the back. The alfalfa weevil larvae spend nearly all their time on the plant. They curl into a C-shape when disturbed.
Once the alfalfa is about 4-6 inches tall, take a net sample to establish whether weevils are present. If they are, carefully cut some stems at ground level (30 to 50 per field, from various spots in the field) and shake the stems against the side of a 5-gallon bucket. This will dislodge the weevils and make it easy to average the number of weevil larvae per stem.
Charts (Figure 3) have been developed to aid decision making on alfalfa weevil control. These charts are guidelines based on available research and can fluctuate depending on growing conditions and variety. Notice that they have price levels below current levels. With prices varying considerably depending on quality and type of bales, start by using the $105 chart and adjust the levels according to the health, variety, and value of the crop, and when you expect to use or sell it. At current prices it would likely be profitable to treat if average counts are over one weevil per stem.
Each chart has been developed for a different alfalfa value. Deciding whether to treat or re-sample depends on the average number of weevils per stem, the stem length, and the value of the alfalfa. When alfalfa reaches a certain height, it may be more profitable to cut the alfalfa early rather than treat it. Also consider whether excellent drying conditions exist for curing hay.
Figure 3. Given current alfalfa prices, use the third chart ($105) and adjust it according to your conditions this year. At current prices it would likely be profitable to treat if average counts are over one weevil per stem.
Many insecticides are registered to control alfalfa weevil larvae. See the most recent edition of the Guide for Weed Management in Nebraska with Insecticide and Fungicide Information (UNL EC130) for rates and restrictions of commonly used insecticides for alfalfa weevil larval control. They differ in their modes of action as well as pre-harvest interval. Highly effective insecticides for alfalfa weevil control include those that are pyrethroids (active ingredient ends in “thrin”) and Steward.
Pyrethroid insecticides also can have detrimental effects on any beneficial insects present.
For more information about the biology and management of the alfalfa weevil, see UNL NebGuide G1208, Managing the Alfalfa Weevil.
Bob Wright, Extension Entomologist
Keith Jarvi, Extension Educator in Dakota, Dixon, and Thurston Counties
Michael Rethwisch, Extension Educator in Butler County