A migrating species of fall armyworm moths could soon wreak havoc on lawns, gardens, and other crops in Alabama and across the southeast.

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System says Alabama is already experiencing a higher-than-normal number of fall armyworms which, combined with recent record rainfall, creates perfect conditions for the invasive species to breed en masse.

"This frequency of rain creates a favorable environment for fall armyworm eggs and larvae to survive in large numbers," ACES said. "It also creates lush, green fields that attract armyworms. In some cases, producers are unable to access fields for control because of excess water."

Amyworms are known for their extremely voracious appetites and have already been eating their way through crops in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Amyworms on the March

“This is the biggest outbreak of fall armyworm situation that I’ve ever seen in my career,” said Gus Lorenz, extension entomologist for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

Scott Stewart, IPM Extension Specialist for the University of Tennessee's Institute of Agriculture says "the fall armyworm outbreak of 2021 is going to be one to remember," and it's only a matter of time before the species makes its mark in the Yellowhammer state.

Homeowners Beware

Although soybeans, corn and rice appear to be the armyworm's favorite meal, homeowners could soon see devastation in their own front yards--literally.

"They are very fond of Bermuda grass, especially when it has been well fertilized and watered. Newly established Bermuda grass lawns are especially susceptible to fall armyworm attack. These caterpillars feed day and night and can cause severe defoliation," said Mississippi State University's Agriculture Extension Office.

"Like most caterpillars, they eat very little when small but consume very large amounts of leaf area during the last few days of their larval stage. This is why turf often appears to have been defoliated “overnight.” the office added.

Can Anything Stop the Armyworm?

Homeowners can protect their lawns with broadcast foliar insecticide sprays, as granular insecticides aren't typically effective against the armyworm.

If possible, farmers are encouraged to harvest what they can before the worms wreak havoc, and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System says cattle can even be used to consume grass before the worms make it their meal.

Various chemical options are available to commercial producers, and additional resources may be found here.

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