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The SA Agriculture Department has confirmed the presence of the Fall Armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda in South Africa. Taxonomists ID'd the beast a few weeks ago, but the department waited for DNA tests to confirm the identity before releasing the news.
Meanwhile, the beasts have been reported from Limpopo, North West and Free State, suggesting that it has been present for quite a while.
The Fall Armyworm occurs naturally in North and South America, It probably originated from imported material to central Africa, perhaps from Brazil.
The caterpillar affects maize, sorghum, soy-beans and potatoes. Local reports are mainly on yellow maize (sweetcorn and seed maize).. Within its natural range it feeds on a wide variety of grasses, favouring Field and Sweet Corn, Sorghum, Bermudagrass, and Crabgrass.
Moths are good flyers, covering large distances.
Fall Armyworm feed during the day, and can be found scattered throughout a field. Although feeding mainly on leaves, they also attack tassels and ears of corn. They are resistant to most pesticides. There is a wide range of parasites in America that keep them under control. Early growing plant species are least affected.
South Africa has initiated an Emergency Plant Pest Response
The species was recorded in Africa for the first time last year according to news reports. The is concern that subsistence farmers relying an Maize will loose their livelihoods. There is also a concern that it will spread to Asia and the Mediterranean.region.
Moth: with dark gray, mottled forewing, with light and dark splotches: a noticeable white spot near the extreme end of the wing.
Caterpillars: Newly hatched larvae are green and loop.
Later instars are smooth-skinned and light tan to green to black, with 3 yellow-white hairlines along the back, with a dark lateral stripe flanked by an equally wide, wavy, yellow splotched red stripe. Diagnostic is the pale Y on the head.
Mature larvae reach 35-40 mm long..
There are inidigenos Armyworms - for instance the African Armyworm (Spodoptera exempta - also Okalombo, Kommandowurm, or Nutgrass Armyworm - that also attack crops.