Black Cutworm

In-Depth Downloads

Pest Facts and Impact on Crop

  • Latin name: Agrotis ipsilon
  • The black cutworm is the major cutworm of the Corn Belt - similar species are found worldwide
  • Black cutworms eat many plants, including corn, cotton, tobacco, vegetables, weeds and turf grasses

U.S. map showing where black cutworms are a concern.

Pest Symptoms

  • Small larvae chew holes in leaves
  • Fourth stage or older larvae exceed the width of a dime in length, and can begin cutting V1 to V5 stage plants
  • Drilling into V6-V8 stage plants can kill growing point
  • Cutting mostly above ground in wet soil, mostly below ground in dry soil

Fourth Stage Black Cutworm

corn plant damage by black cutworm

Figure 1. Black cutworm damage to a corn plant.

corn plant recovery

Figure 2. Recovery after being cut above the growing point.

Pest ID

  • Key characteristics
    • Adult forewings with dagger-shaped marking and kidney-shaped spot
    • Larvae are black/gray and grow to 1 5/8 inches
Black cutworm
Figure 3. Black cutworm
Sandhill cutworm
Sandhill cutworm
Glassy cutworm
Glassy cutworm
Dingy cutworm
Dingy cutworm
Bronzed cutworm
Bronzed cutworm
Variegated cutworm
Variegated cutworm

Black Cutworm - Annual Lifecycle in Corn


  • Favorable conditions for pest occurrence would be spring storms prior to tillage and planting delivering moths to the area
    • Monitor moth flight reports
    • Kill existing vegetation nine or more days prior to planting to reduce larval survival
    • Natural enemies are generally birds and other predators, though they're not usually effective
  • IPM practices
    • Pheromone trapping is used to determine when the pest is present
    • Intensively scout fields that are at risk
    • Reduced tillage or other practices that leave a food source for the young larvae increase risk
    • Insecticide seed treatments at high rates may give some control, but lower rates are not as effective
    • Broadcast pesticide or bait application may be used as a rescue treatment
Close up photo showing a black cutworm moth and wing.
Figure 5. Black cutworm moth and wing close-up

Management with Pioneer® Brand Products

  • Pioneer® brand corn products with the Herculex® I trait have very good protection against black cutworm.
Photo showing a Pioneer® brand corn product with the Herculex® I trait compared to a susceptible product under black cutworm pressure.
Figure 6. A Pioneer® brand corn product with the Herculex® I trait (right), compared to a susceptible hybrid (left) under black cutworm pressure. Orange stakes indicate cut plants.

Author: Mark Jeschke

January 2018



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