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Black Cutworm


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



Herculex® I HX1 – Contains the Herculex® I Insect Protection gene which provides protection against European corn borer, southwestern corn borer, black cutworm, fall armyworm, lesser corn stalk borer, southern corn stalk borer, and sugarcane borer; and suppresses corn earworm. Herculex® I Insect Protection technology by Dow AgroSciences and Pioneer Hi-Bred. Herculex® and the HX logo are registered trademarks of Dow AgroSciences LLC.


The foregoing is provided for informational use only. Please contact your Pioneer sales professional for information and suggestions specific to your operation. Product performance is variable and depends on many factors such as moisture and heat stress, soil type, management practices and environmental stress as well as disease and pest pressures. Individual results may vary.