Authors as Published

Vonny M. Barlow, Graduate Research Associate and Thomas P. Kuhar, Assistant Professor, Department of Entomology; Virginia Tech


The European corn borer, Ostrinia nubilalis (Hubner) (Lepidoptera: Crambidae), is a significant pest to over 200 different plant species. In Virginia, it is the number one pest of pepper, Capsicum annuum L. This pest can damage over 50 percent of pepper fruit if control measures are not taken.

European Corn Borer


For a complete description of the European corn borer (ECB) and its life cycle, see European Corn Borer, Virginia Cooperative Extension publication 444-232 , by Roger R. Youngman and Eric R. Day. The European corn borer is a moth (Fig. 1) that deposits its egg masses on the underside of leaves (Fig. 2). ECBs damage plants by their extensive tunneling into plant structures (Fig. 3). After overwintering as a full-grown larva in plant stems and debris, the ECB begins to develop in the spring when temperatures exceed 50ºF. Larvae pupate in late spring and emerge as adults after about two weeks. The first of three generations of moths usually appears from mid-May to early June in Virginia (Fig. 4) with the exact date depending on both location and weather conditions. The second generation of moths emerges from late June to mid-July. The second and third generations are considered to be the most damaging to crops like bell pepper.


Fig. 1. Female (left) and male (right) adult European corn borer moths. Photo courtesy of Iowa State Cooperative Extension.
Fig. 2. ECB egg mass on the underside of leaf. Photo courtesy of Iowa State Cooperative Extension.
Fig. 3. ECB larva tunneling into plant stem.
Fig. 4. Typical multi-generation ECB moth flights for Virginia.


After the eggs hatch, the newly emerged larvae feed on leaf tissue for a short period and then tunnel into stems or fruit. The ECB larvae often burrow into the fruit beneath the protection of the calyx. Once direct injury (Fig. 5) has occurred to the marketable portion of the pepper (i.e., the fruit) it is no longer acceptable for market. The ECB is a season-long pest that causes direct injury to the fruit as well as premature fruit ripening and fruit rotting as a result of pathogens such as Erwinia carotovora pv. carotovora entering the feeding wound. Controlling ECB larvae before they reach the pepper fruit is essential to effectively managing this pest.

Fig. 5. ECB larva tunneling in pepper fruit.


Chemical Control of ECBs in Pepper

ECBs in pepper can be adequately controlled in Virginia with multiple applications of insecticides beginning at early fruiting through final harvest. There are several insecticides currently labeled for ECB control in pepper. However, not all of them are proven to be effective. Table 1 lists selected products that Virginia Tech and other university researchers have tested and shows their overall effectiveness against ECBs. In Virginia, European corn borer trap catches above 2 per night with pepper fruit 1/2 inch in size or larger should be treated on a 7- to 10-day schedule. In fields with no fruit present, chemical applications should begin when trap catches are above 10 ECBs per week to prevent newly hatched larvae from feeding on leaves and then tunneling into the petioles and stems.


Table 1. Insecticides labeled for ECB control in peppers as of 20041.
ProductRateInsecticide ClassCommon NameControlUsage/Season
Orthene 9712-16 oz/AOrganophosphateAcephateExcellent32 oz/A (season max.)
Avaunt 30WDG23.5 oz/APyrazolineIndoxacarbExcellent14 oz/A (season max.)
SpinTor 2SC6 fl oz/ASpinosadSpinosadExcellentFull season
Intrepid 2F8-16 fl oz/AInsect Growth RegulatorMethox-fenozideExcellentFull season
Mustang Max4 fl oz/APyrethroidZetacy-permethrinGoodFull season
Baythroid 2EC1.6-1.8 fl oz/APyrethroidCyfluthrinGoodFull season
Warrior 1 EC2.56-3.84 fl oz/APyrethroidLambda-cyhalothrinGoodFull season
Confirm 2F8-16 fl oz/AInsect Growth RegulatorTebufenozideFair64 fl oz/A (season max.)
Lannate LV48 fl oz/ACarbamateMethomylFairFull season
Ambush 25W12.8 oz/APyrethroidPermethrinFairFull season
Asana XL5.8-9.6 fl oz/APyrethroidEsfenvalerateFairFull season
1 Be aware that pesticide labels and registrations are constantly changing and that the information provided in this table may be out-ofdate by the time you read it. Always read and follow current labels before applying any pesticides.
2Although not registered for ECB control, this product is registered for use in bell pepper.

Biological Control of ECBs in Pepper

Controlling ECBs in bell pepper with insecticides is problematic because they do not kill eggs and do not control larvae once they tunnel into stems and fruit. Effective alternatives to chemical control of ECBs are essential for bell pepper production to be in compliance with the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), which already has and will continue to eliminate some of the pesticides used for control of O. nubilalis in the United States. Biological control agents such as Trichogramma ostriniae Pang et Chen (Trichogrammatidae: Hymenoptera) (Fig. 6a), a tiny parasitic wasp (Fig. 6b) newly imported from China, may reduce the need for chemical control in bell pepper. Research conducted in Virginia has demonstrated that approximately 100 to 170 T. ostriniae per plant/per week can significantly reduce the number of ECB-damaged peppers by over 70 percent. This is a significant reduction of damage. It is the result of the female T. ostriniae parasitoid wasp depositing her own eggs in the egg masses of the ECB. Once the female T. ostriniae locates an ECB egg mass, she will sting each of the eggs in the mass with her ovipositor, thus destroying the ECB larvae within. After about 4 days the egg mass will turn black, indicating that it has been parasitized (Fig. 6c). At the end of 10 days, a new adult Trichogramma parasitoid will emerge from each ECB egg to begin the parasitization cycle again. Although control of ECBs with T. ostriniae has shown to be effective for control of the ECB in bell pepper, further work needs to be done to evaluate the use of insecticides with biological control organisms like T. ostriniae. Work is now being done to evaluate a spinosad product in combination with T. ostriniae releases to further increase control of the ECB in bell pepper.


Fig. 6. Trichogramma ostriniae parasitizing ECB eggs: a: adults ovipositing, b: close up of adult (scale = 1mm), c: parasitized ECB egg mass.


Additional Reading

Barlow V.M. and T.P. Kuhar. 2004. Within-plant Distribution of European Corn borer, Ostrinia nubilalis (Lepidoptera: Crambidae) egg masses on bell pepper. Submitted to the Journal of Entomological Science. June 16.

Hazzard, R.V. and G.M. Ghidiu. 2001. European corn borer management. P. 67-76 In T. J. Boucher and R. A. Ashley (eds.), Northeast Pepper Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Manual. University of Connecticut Cooperative. Extension., Stoors, Conn.

Hoffmann, M.P., P.R. Ode, D.L. Walker, J. Gardner, S. van Nouhuys, and A.M. Shelton. 2001. Performance of Trichogramma ostriniae (Hymenoptera: Trichogrammatidae) reared on factitious hosts including the target host, Ostrinia nubilalis (Lepidoptera: Crambidae). Biological Control 21: 1-10.

Kuhar, T.P. and J. Speese. 2002. Evaluation of foliar insecticides for control of European corn borer in peppers, 2001. Arthropod Management Tests. 27: E56.

Kuhar, T.P., J. Speese, V.M. Barlow, and R. Cordero. 2003. Evaluation of foliar insecticides for control of lepidopterous pests in peppers, 2002. Arthropod Management Tests. 28:

Kuhar, T.P., V.M. Barlow, M.P. Hoffmann, S.J. Fleischer, E. Groden, J. Gardner, R.V. Hazzard, M.G. Wright, S.A. Pitcher, J. Speese III, and P. Westgate. 2004. Potential of Trichogramma ostriniae (Hymenoptera: Trichogrammatidae) for biological control of European corn borer (Lepidoptera: Crambidae) in solanaceous crops. Accepted (in press) Journal of Economic Entomology.

Reviewed by Tom Kuhar, associate professor, Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center

Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.

Publication Date

May 1, 2009