Army worms have been brutal this fall. I never saw it coming. The summer garden came and went and I then planted my fall garden. The first planting grew nice and the seedlings grew to an inch or two, then overnight – yes, overnight, the seedlings were gone. It took a few days of research and observation to realize it is army worms eating and destroying my garden.
When I realized it was army worms, I knew to watch for them early in the morning and later in the evening because they usually feed at night. Yes, I was able to see some of them, in different sizes of development. They usually feed at night and then hide in the plant litter – the oak leaves you can see. They are supposed to prefer grass, but for some reason our Bermuda grass was left alone and they were in my vegetable garden and some flower vines.
Army worms do most of their damage in the fall.
I have been re-planting my winter garden since September. The army worms have been brutal this fall. They have decimated my Swiss Chard, Kale, Spinach, Lettuce, Carrots and Beets.
These one-leafed chard seedlings are what I saw one morning. The next morning, only the stems were left.
This is another of my winter beds. These kale seedlings grew a few inches tall before the bed was hit with the worms. The worms eat all of the leaves, leaving the stems, which of course die. The larger plant in the top right corner is a volunteer curcubit from the compost pile.
By my finger is the chewed off stem of a chard seedling. The ground area in this picture was covered with chard seedlings, now it is barren ground. Early in the morning or early in the evening I would occasionally see a few army worms on the ground or even on a seedling.
The two yellow circles mark cut off chard plants. These worms eat the leaves off of my tiny sprouts. The plants are so small that even though I spray the plants with Bt, the leaves are so small that the worms appear to eat the plants before the Bt kills them. After my fourth or fifth re-planting, I used a kitchen screen strainer to sprinkle diatomaceous earth all over the planted area. This substance lasted for almost a week. It even survived a few waterings. Eventually the worms ate all of the sprouts that grew from that planting.
Two of these horrid creatures curled up and resting on an eaten sweet potato leaf. These two are a little over an inch long.
More, extensive worm damage on my sweet potatoes. These were the first widely seen worm destruction – on the sweet potatoes. Repeated spraying of neem oil and Bt didn’t seem to slow them down. After my fourth or fifth planting, I used a kitchen screen strainer and shook diatomaceous earth over my planting
This okra leaf, along with most other leaves in my garden, are full of worm holds. This is during the early phase of the worm damage.
I thought I was going to get one final moonflower to bloom, after the initial assault of worms. No, it was not to be. The worms dug right in and ate the bloom. I was hoping for one more pod of moonflower seeds.
This moonflower has been destroyed by the worms. They seem to prefer the flower sprouts. You can see their droppings all over the leaves.
These ugly army worms are in a cypress vine. The largest are over an inch long and the smallest are less than a half inch long and as thin as a pencil lead. They are all over. This cypress vine has dozens of worms all through it, all sizes.
These little black, round balls are caterpillar poop. This area is under a large, 60 foot tall turkey oak tree. The tree must be full of caterpillars because there is a constant, quiet ‘raining’ of these bug droppings. The sound is audible as they droop thru the leaves and fall onto the ground.
This worm decimates pine tree needles. Clumps of these worms strip the green needles off, but fortunately, many of my damaged seedlings look like they are re-growing their needles on their barren stems. These worms are redheaded pine sawfly caterpillars (Neodiprion lecontei).
It has been a terrible fall for my garden. I don’t know why so many army worms hung around in my garden. Perhaps it was the mild past winter. Cooler temperatures and a higher rainfall are favorable to them. Army worms are named for their m.o., their method of operation. The larvae occur and travel in large, army-like groups. When they eat all of the food in an area, they march en mass and at night, to their next feeding area. They consume about 80% of all of the food they eat in the last two to three days of their 30 day life cycle as a caterpillar. Army worms are the larvae of a night flying moth. They hibernate or winter in south Texas then fly north in the spring and summer months, millions of them, looking for fields to lay their eggs.
Army worms go thru three stages of life. In the pupa stage, the full grown army worm tunnels into the soil and transforms into the pupae, an inactive, non-feeding stage. In seven to ten days, the moth emerges from the pupa. The full grown army worm moth has a wingspan of about one and a half inches. The moths are active at night and a single female can deposit 200 eggs. Development from egg to moth takes about a week during the summer and a bit longer during the cool fall weather. Development ends with the cool weather in November. This means that they should be winding down, but they have eaten about 6 plantings of my fall garden! I should have greens about a foot high, but I am still struggling to get mere seedlings to survive. So very disappointed.