“Picudo negro” (black weevil) on soybean in Argentina

During my recent tour of soybean fields in Argentina, I traveled north to Tucumán Province and met with entomologists at the Estación Experimental Agroindustrial Obispo Columbre (“Obispo Columbre Agricultural Experiment Station”). This provincial station, established more than 100 years ago (1909), conducts research on agricultural and production technology for the Tucumán agricultural region. Focus crops include sugarcane, citrus, and grain—primarily soybean, corn, wheat, and dry beans, with research activities ranging from basic biological studies on emerging pests (such as Rhyssomatus subtilis, featured here) and Helicoverpa armigera (recently discovered in Brazil and now in northern Argentina) to resistance monitoring for transgenic crop target pests such as Spodoptera frugiperda, Helicoverpa zea, and Diatraea saccharalis.

Rhysommatus subtilis is a significant regional pest of soybean in Tucumán Province.

Figure 1. Rhysommatus subtilis is a significant regional pest of soybean in Tucumán Province.

In recent years the laboratory has had a dedicated effort to characterize the biology and economic impact of R. subtilis on soybean (Fig. 1). Although practically limited to soybean growing regions in Tucumán Province, this insect has increased greatly in importance within that area in recent years along with two other weevils: Sternechus subsignatus (picudo grande, or “big weevil”) and Promecops carinicollis (picudo chico, or “little weevil”) (Casmús et al. 2010). Of the three species, S. subsignatus is perhaps the most serious because of its stem boring habit that can result in stand loss, while P. carinicollis is the least because its feeding is largely limited to leaves. Rhyssomatus subtilis is intermediate in importance, primarily due to larval feeding within developing pods.

Adults feed by clipping leaf petioles. The impact is minor, but it is a characteristic sign of adult presence.

Figure 2. Adults feed by clipping leaf petioles. The impact is minor but signals adult presence.

I have not yet seen S. subsignatus in soybean fields in the area, but I saw P. carinicollis during last year’s tour (see this post) and encountered R. subtilis at several locations during this year’s tour. Rhyssomatus subtilis presence in soybean can be detected even before the adults are noticed by the occurrence of clipped leaflets (Fig. 2), which is caused by adults feeding on leaf petioles.

Adult females chew a small hole into the wall of the developing pod, not to feed but for oviposition

Figure 3. Adult females chew small holes into developing pods, not to feed but for oviposition.

Leaf feeding has little if any impact on the crop; however, as the crop enters pod development stages of growth adult females begin chewing small holes in the pod walls (Fig. 3), not for feeding but for oviposition. Eggs are laid singly in the pod (Fig. 4), with larvae (Fig. 5) feeding on the developing seeds within.

Eggs are laid singly inside the pod.

Figure 4. Eggs are laid singly inside the pod.

This manner of feeding by the larva not only directly impacts yield but also hampers efforts to control active infestations by preventing contact with foliar-applied insecticides. Eventually the larvae mature, exit the pod, and drop to the soil where they burrow, pupate, and emerge as adults during the next cropping season while plants are still in early to mid-vegetative stages of growth.

This neonate larva has just hatched and will feed within the pod on developing seeds.

Figure 5. This neonate larva has just hatched and will feed within the pod on developing seeds.

Management techniques include rotation with grass crops to reduce populations (the weevil is oligophagous on soybean and dry beans), use of insecticide seed treatments to control adults during early vegetative stages of growth, and subsequent use of foliar insecticide applications if adults remain after the effect of seed treatments begins to diminish.


Casmús, A., M. G. Socías, L. Cazado, G. Gastaminza, C. Prado, E. Escobar, A. Rovati, E. Willink, M. Devani & R. Avila. 2010. El picudo negro de la vaina de soja en el NOA. Estación Experimental Agroindustrial Obispo Columbre, Tucumán, Argentina, 8 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2014

Not all soybean caterpillars are ‘ugly’!

Although photographs of beetles dominate this site (they are my true love, after all), I am nevertheless an agricultural entomologist by day and, as such, find occasion to post photos of the insects I encounter in my area of expertise—soybean. I think by and large those soybean insects—especially the caterpillars—don’t generate as much interest as the beetles that I feature. I guess this is understandable—caterpillars of the agricultural pest variety seem generally unable to compete with the visual and behavioral charisma exhibited by jewel beetles, tiger beetles, tortoise beetles, etc. Here, however, is an example of a soybean caterpillar that is as beautiful as any beetle you will find—the larva of the silver-spotted skipper, Epargyreus clarus (Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae). Not only are the colors to die for, but that comically big head makes for a truly laughable frontal portrait!

Epargyreus clarus (silver-spotted skipper) late-instar larva on soybean | Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Epargyreus clarus (silver-spotted skipper) late-instar larva on soybean | Baton Rouge, Louisiana

This particular individual was found last September in a soybean field near Baton Rouge, Louisiana (amazingly, this is the first insect I have featured from Louisiana). Silver-spotted skippers feed on a wide variety of plants in the family Fabaceae (of which soybean is a member), but their occurrence on soybean rarely reaches levels that cause any economic impact. Normally the caterpillars hide during the day in a silken nest constructed by folding over a leaflet or tying adjacent leaflets together, emerging only at night to feed.

What a pretty face!

What a pretty face!

I suppose the orange spots on the head are intended to serve as false eye spots—for some reason the larger the eyes the more a potential predator seems to take pause before deciding to eat something. The actual eyes can be seen along the outer edge of the orange spot as a row of simple ocelli—incapable of forming sharp images and serving as little more than light and motion detectors. I can’t even begin to speculate on the function of the curious asperate/rugose texture of the head!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2014

A polypipin’ we will go!

A polypipin’ we will go, a polypipin’ we will go
Heigh ho, the dairy-o, a polypipin’ we will go
A polypipin’ we will go, a polypipin’ we will go
We’ll catch a tiger beetle and put him in a vial
And then we’ll let him go (not!)

Okay, maybe my adaptation of the popular children’s song A Hunting We Will Go isn’t the best, but if you want to collect tiger beetles in the genus Tetracha then you’ve got to try the method that my friend Kent Fothergill has dubbed “polypipin’.”

The author polypipin’ in a soybean field in Starkville, Mississippi, September 2013. Photo by Lisa G. Ruschke.

What exactly is polypipin’? Well, it’s when you look for stuff under polypipe—a big plastic tube with holes in it that some farmers use to irrigate their crops. The tube is laid across one end of their field, and when water is pumped into it the water leaks out of the holes along the length of the tube and runs down the furrows between the rows. This is a popular method of irrigation in the Mississippi Delta because the terrain is flat and the equipment costs are much lower than center pivot irrigation systems. Of course, the tube also provides excellent cover for insects and other small critters that live in and around agricultural fields, and these include tiger beetles in the genus Tetracha.

Tetracha carolina under polypipe in a soybean field in Starkville, Mississippi

Tetracha carolina under polypipe in a soybean field in Starkville, Mississippi

I wish I could take the credit, but it was Kent who had the great idea to use polypipin’ as a way to survey for T. carolina (Carolina metallic tiger beetle) in the Mississippi Lowlands (“bootheel”) in southeast Missouri. This is a common species across the southern tier of the United States, but prior to this survey the occurrence of this species in Missouri was not well understood. While a number of specimens had been collected in the bootheel over the years prior to the survey, some regarded Missouri records of the species to be a result of vagrants migrating into the state rather than residents (Pearson et al. 2006). Tiger beetles in the genus Tetracha are nocturnal and take refuge during the day, so they are not often encountered unless one goes at at night with a flashlight. Kent was interested in determining the status of this species in Missouri and had noticed their tendency to take refuge under polypipe—where they could be easily found during the day by simply lifting up the pipe. Rather than give up on sleep, Kent and colleagues surveyed agricultural fields throughout the bootheel by looking under polypipe and demonstrated not only that T. carolina is well established in and a resident of the bootheel, but that it is actually quite abundant and may reside even further north in Missouri than just the bootheel (Fothergill et al. 2011).

Adults are amazingly calm if the polypipe is lifted carefully so as not to disturb them.

Adults are amazingly calm if the polypipe is lifted carefully so as not to disturb them.

I don’t know what it is, but there is just something really fun about polypipin’. Being an agricultural entomologist by day, I have ample opportunity to do a little polypipin’ of my own as I travel across the southern U.S. looking at soybean fields, including this past September when I found myself in fields with polypipe in Arkansas and Mississippi. These photos were taken in Starkville, Mississippi near the Mississippi State University campus, and as has happened in every other case where I’ve looked, I found adults of T. carolina quite abundant underneath the polypipe. Some were found simply resting on the soil surface beneath the pipe, but a great many were observed to have dug burrows under the pipe for added shelter.

Adults often construct burrows underneath the polypipe for additional refuge.

Adults often construct burrows underneath the polypipe for additional refuge.

Polypipin’ works as a survey tool for T. carolina because of that species’ propensity for agricultural fields and other moist, treeless habitats. I’ve not yet found T. virginica (Virginia metallic tiger beetle) under polypipe, but that species is more fond of forested rather than treeless habitats. Perhaps an agricultural field next to forest with polypipe laid on the side adjacent to the forest might produce this species. At any rate, polypipin’ might offer a tool to better define the entire northern distributional limit of T. carolina—all one has to do is look.


Fothergill, K., C. B. Cross, K. V. Tindall, T. C. MacRae and C. R. Brown. 2011.Tetracha carolina L. (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae) associated with polypipe irrigation systems in southeastern Missouri agricultural lands. CICINDELA 43(3):45–58 [pdf].

Pearson, D. L., C. B. Knisley & C. J. Kazilek. 2006. A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of the United States and Canada. Oxford University Press, New York, 227 pp. [Oxford description].

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

T.G.I.Flyday: Soybean nodule fly

I’ve been walking the rows of soybean fields for many years now, and while it might seem that I would have very quickly seen all there was to see in terms of insects associated with the crop, this is not the case. The major players are almost always present—lepidopteran caterpillars such as velvetbean caterpillar (Anticarsia gemmatalis) and soybean looper (Chrysodeixis includens), and stink bugs such as southern green stink bug (Nezara viridula), red-banded stink bug (Piezodorus guildinii) and brown stink bugs (Euschistus spp.). However, numerous other insects can be found at one time or another—some of great importance from the perspective of the farmer producer but others with very little impact on the crop. During a tour of soybean fields in Mississippi this past September, I saw a large number of “signal flies”¹ (family Platystomatidae) on the foliage of the soybean plants that I presumed to represent the soybean nodule fly, Rivellia quadrifasciata

¹ I originally learned these to be “picture-winged flies”—a name now more commonly used to refer to members of the family Ulidiidae—which I learned as “Otitidae”!

² This species can be separated with certainty from the closely related and largely sympatric species R. colei only by examination of male genitalia (Namba 1956). Rivellia quadrifasciata is more common and widespread than R. colei and is the species cited in literature in association with soybean.

Rivellia quadrifasciata (soybean nodule fly) | Stoneville, Mississipi

Rivellia quadrifasciata (soybean nodule fly) | Stoneville, Mississipi

Rivellia quadrifasciata is widely distributed in the eastern U.S. where it originally fed probably on tick trefoil, Desmodium spp. (Foote et al. 1987), but has since adapted to soybean, Glycines max (Eastman & Wuensche 1977), and black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia (McMichael et al. 1990). Despite its relatively recent adaptation to soybean as a favored host plant, the species does not appear to cause much economic damage to the crop. The small, white, maggot-like larvae live in the soil and feed on the Rhizobium nodules of the roots that are used by the plant for nitrogen-fixation. Soybean, of course, is famous for its compensatory abilities and can withstand considerable nodule injury without yield impact, and as a result losses from this insect are considered minor (Heatherly & Hodges 1998).

Signal flies wave their wings constantly.

The wings of signal flies are almost always in constant motion.

Of more interest from a natural history perspective, these flies—like other members of the Platystomatidae—are almost always seen with their wings in a constant “waving” motion as they walk about on the host leaves. This seems clearly an intraspecific “signaling” behavior (and the source of the family’s common name), with the pattern of markings on the wings and the particular sequence of movements of the wings combining to provide species-specific signals for mate recruitment. Some Asian members of the family are famous for the remarkably elongated eye stalks of the males, which aid in intraspecific male-to-male combat behaviors that provide selection pressure for even more elongate eye stalks. Sadly, our North American species exhibit no such modifications of the head, but their strangely tubular mouthparts do give them the appearance of wearing a “gas mask.”

gas mask

The strangely tubular mouthparts give adults the appearance of wearing a “gas mask.”

Information on the biology of adult platystomatids is limited, but a wide range of adult foods, e.g. nectar, honeydew, plant sap, bird droppings, and carrion, have been reported for this species, and R. quadrifasciata males have been observed to feed females globules of liquid during mating.


Eastman, C. E. & A. L. Wuensche. 1977. A new insect damaging nodule of soybeans: Rivellia quadrifasciata (Macquarl). Journal of the Georgia Entomological Society 12:190–199.

Foote, B. A., B. D. Bowker & B. A. McMichael. 1987. Host plants for North American species of Rivellia (Diptera, Platystomatidae). Entomological News 98:135–139 [Biodiversity Heritage].

Heatherly & Hodges. 1998. Soybean Production in the Midsouth. CRC Press LLC, Boca Raton, Florida, 416 pp. [Google Books].

McMichael,  B. A., B. A. Foote & B. D. Bowker, B. D. 1990. Biology of Rivellia melliginis (Diptera: Platystomatidae), a consumer of the nitrogen-fixing root nodules of black locust (Leguminosae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 83(5):967–974 [abstract].

Namba, R. 1956. A revision of the flies of the genus Rivellia (Otitidae, Diptera) of America north of Mexico. Proceedings of the U.S. National Museum 106:21–84 [Biodiversity Heritage].

Copyright Ted C. MacRae 2013

Hooray for iStock—I finally have an ID for my photo

I was all set to make a “One-Shot Wednesday” post today, but sometimes big news strikes and plans must change. The news today was in the form of a random tweet by Alex Wild:


The link in the tweet led me to the following photo on iStock by Getty:

bedbug has captured worm

I was stunned—the photo depicted a scene almost identical to one that I had photographed back in September while visiting soybean fields in Louisiana. For two months I sat on the photo with no idea what I was looking at, but now thanks to Alex I have my answer! Compare the above photo with mine below, and you’ll see that everything matches perfectly—I had photographed a “bedbug” that had captured a “worm”!

Podisus maculiventris preying on Chrysodeixis includens larva

bedbug captures a worm

I considered myself to be fortunate, because there was not just one but two different subjects in the photo, and both of them matched perfectly with the subjects shown in the iStock photo. Gotta love the internet—nowadays names for even the most hard-to-identify bugs are just a click away if you know where to look!


Of course, the aggressor in both photos is not a “bedbug” [sic for “bed bug”] (order Hemiptera, family Cimicidae) but a stink bug (family Pentatomidae), specifically Podisus maculiventris, or “spined soldier bug”—perhaps the most common predatory stink bug in North Amerca and ranging from Mexico and parts of the West Indies north through the U.S. into Canada. It is a well-known predator of crop pests and, as such, has been imported to several other countries as part of classical biological control efforts. As for the “worm,” in my photo it is a late-instar larva of Chrysodeixis includens, or “soybean looper, and while I haven’t been able to identify the exact species in the iStock photo it is definitely a lepidopteran caterpillar that appears to related to if not in the same family as the soybean looper (Noctuidae). Now, I concede that “worm” is sometimes used for lepidopteran larvae, but one must also concede that in it’s broadest sense “worm” can refer to members of several disparate phyla such as Nematoda (roundworms), Platyhelminthes (flatworms), or Annelida (segmented worms).

This case, of course, just screams for application of the Taxonomy Fail Index (TFI), which scales the amount of error in a taxonomic identification in absolute time against the error of misidentifying a human with a chimpanzee—our closest taxonomic relative. For example, when TFI = 1 the error is of the same magnitude as mistaking a human for a chimp, while  TFI > 1 is a more egregious error and TFI < 1 a more forgivable one. In the case shown here, one must go back to the common ancestor that eventually gave rise to all of the worm phyla and noctuid moths (~937.5 mya). In addition, since there are two subjects in the photo, one must also go back to the divergence of the main hemipteran groups that contain bed bugs and stink bugs (mid-Triassic, ~227.5 mya). This results a whopping 1.165 billion total years of divergence between the identifications assigned to the subjects in the iStock photo and their actual identity. Assuming that chimps and humans diverged approximately 7.5 mya, this gives a TFI for the iStock photo of 155! I haven’t searched thoroughly to determine whether this is a record for the highest TFI in a single photo, but surely it is a strong contender!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Quick Guide to Armyworms on Soybean

Throughout the soybean growing areas of the southern U.S. and South America, lepidopteran caterpillars are the most important pest complex affecting the crop. Millions of pounds of insecticides are sprayed on the crop each year in an effort to minimize their impact—a practice that is not always successful and entails significant exposure risks to the environment and farm workers alike. A variety of lepidopteran species occur in soybeans, and proper identification is essential to ensure adequate control and avoiding unnecessary applications. While the most important and commonly encountered species are velvetbean caterpillar (Anticarsia gemmatalis) and soybean looper (Chrysodeixis includens), others include soybean podworms (Helicoverpa zea in the U.S.; H. gelotopoeon and—now—H. armigera in Brazil and Argentina), sunflower looper (Rachiplusia nu), bean shoot moth (Crocidosema aporema), and armyworms of the genus Spodoptera. The last group contains several species that can affect soybean, and while they have traditionally been considered minor pests of the crop a number of species have increased in importance during the past few years.

I have been conducting soybean field trials in both the U.S. and South America for many years now and have had an opportunity to photograph most of the species known to occur on soybean in these regions. Identification of armyworm larvae can be rather difficult due to their similarity of appearance, lack of distinctive morphological differences (e.g. number of prolegs), and intraspecific variability in coloration. Conclusive identification is not always possible, especially with younger larvae; however, the different species do exhibit subtle characters that can usually allow for fairly reliable identification of large larvae. Considering the dearth of direct comparative resources—either in print or online—I offer this quick guide to the six armyworm species that I’ve encountered in soybean.

Spodoptera frugiperda (fall armyworm) | Jerseyville, Illinois

Spodoptera frugiperda (fall armyworm) | Jerseyville, Illinois

Spodoptera frugiperda (fall armyworm). This is not the most important armyworm pest of soybean, in contrast to its great importance in other crops such as corn and cotton. It is, however, the most widely distributed of the species, occurring in both the southern U.S. and throughout soybean growing areas of Brazil and Argentina. When problems do occur on soybean they are usually a result of larvae moving from grassy weeds to small soybean plants in late-planted or double-crop fields. Larvae can damage all stages of soybean, from seedlings (cutting them off at ground level) to later stages by feeding primarily on foliage and even pods. Larvae are somewhat variable in coloration but are distinctive among armyworms by virtue of the pinaculae (sclerotized tubercles) visible over the dorsum, each bearing a single stout seta. Four pinaculae are present on each of the abdominal segments, with those on the eighth abdominal segment forming a square, and larvae also exhibit a pronounced inverted, white, Y-shaped mark on the head.

Spodoptera exigua (beet armyworm) | Stoneville, Mississippi

Spodoptera exigua (beet armyworm) | Stoneville, Mississippi

Spodoptera exigua (beet armyworm). This species is better known as a pest of vegetables but will occasionally damage soybean in the southern U.S. In soybean larvae prefer to feed on foliage of seedling plants but will, if present during reproductive stages, also feed on blossoms and small pods. Late-instar larvae can be rather variable in appearance, but most tend to be green above and pinkish or yellowish below with a white stripe along the side. Larvae can be confused with Spodoptera eridania (southern armyworm) because of a dark spot that might be present on the side, but in southern armyworm the spot is on the first abdominal segment while in beet armyworm (when present) it is on the mesothorax.

Spodoptera ornithogalli (yellowstriped armyworm) | Jerseyville, Illinois

Spodoptera ornithogalli (yellow-striped armyworm) | Jerseyville, Illinois

Spodoptera ornithogalli (yellow-striped armyworm). This species is widely distributed throughout North and South America, but its status as an occasional pest of soybean is limited practically to the southeastern U.S. It is often encountered in soybean in low numbers but can reach pest status in double-crop fields with small plants that have been planted after wheat (similar to fall armyworm). Compared to other species in the genus the larvae are rather uniform in appearance, exhibiting paired, black, triangular spots along the back of each abdominal segment with thin to prominent yellow stripes running lengthwise adjacent to and not interrupted by the spots. Larvae oftentimes have an almost black velvety appearance with distinctly contrasting bright yellow stripes.

Spodoptera eridania (southern armyworm) | Jerseyville, Illinois

Spodoptera eridania (southern armyworm) | Jerseyville, Illinois

Spodoptera eridania (southern armyworm) | Union City, Tennessee

Spodoptera eridania (southern armyworm) | Union City, Tennessee

Spodoptera eridania (southern armyworm). This species is, like fall armyworm, widely distributed from the southern U.S. through Brazil and Argentina. In the U.S. it occurs only sporadically on soybean, usually causing “hot spots” of damage by groups of many larvae hatching from a single egg mass and skeletonizing the nearby foliage before dispersing as they grow larger. In Brazil and Argentina this species has emerged during recent years as one of the most important armyworm pests of soybean, especially in regions where cotton is also grown. Larvae can be somewhat variable in appearance and, in South America, can be easily confused with those of the black armyworm (S. cosmioides), both of which often exhibit prominent black markings on first and eighth abdominal segments and a subspiracular light-colored line along the length of the thorax and abdomen. Southern armyworm, however, rarely exhibits an additional black marking on top of the mesothoracic segment. Additionally, when the subspiracular line is present it is interrupted by the black marking on the first abdominal segment and is less distinct in front of the spot than behind, and if the line is not present then the black spots on top of the first abdominal segment are larger than those on top of the eighth abdominal segment.

Spodoptera cosmioides (black armyworm) | Acevedo (Buenos Aires Prov.), Argentina

Spodoptera cosmioides (black armyworm) | Acevedo (Buenos Aires Prov.), Argentina

Spodoptera cosmioides (black armyworm) | Chaco Prov., Argentina

Spodoptera cosmioides (black armyworm) | Saenz Peña (Chaco Prov.), Argentina

Spodoptera cosmioides (black armyworm) | Acevedo (Buenos Aires Prov.), Argentina

Spodoptera cosmioides (black armyworm) | Acevedo (Buenos Aires Prov.), Argentina

Spodoptera cosmioides (black armyworm). No accepted English common name exists for this strictly South American species that was previously considered a synonym of the North and Central American species Spodoptera latifascia. In Brazil it has been referred to by such names as “lagarta preta” (black caterpillar) and “lagarta da vagem” (pod caterpillar). The latter name has also been applied to other soybean pests, including southern armyworm, so to me “black armyworm” seems the most appropriate English name to adopt. Like southern armyworm, this species is a sometimes pest of cotton and in recent years has become increasingly important in soybean throughout Brazil and northern Argentina. Larvae often resemble and can be easily confused with those of southern armyworm; however, there is almost always a dark spot on top of the mesothoracic segment that is lacking in southern armyworm. Additionally, the light-colored subspiracular line, when present, is not interrupted by the black spot on the first abdominal segment and is equally distinct in front of and behind the spot. When the line is not present the black spots on top of the first abdominal segment are smaller than than those on top of the eighth abdominal segment.

Spodoptera albula

Spodoptera albula (gray-streaked armyworm) | Saenz Peña (Chaco Prov.), Argentina

Spodoptera albula (unbarred or gray-streaked armyworm). While known to occur in extreme southern U.S., this species has been cited as a pest of soybean only in Brazil, although its importance has not matched that of southern or black armyworm. Like most armyworms it is polyphagous, but this species seems to prefer amaranth (Amaranthus spp.). Larvae of this species can be distinguished from other South American armyworms that feed on soybean by the trapezoidal black marking on the mesothorax (usually semicircular to slightly trapezoidal in black armyworm), the black marking on the first abdominal segment not larger than that on the sixth abdominal segment, both of which are smaller than those on the seventh and eight abdominal segments, the white-only rather than white and orange dorsolateral stripe, and the triangular black markings on the abdominal segments each with a small white spot in the middle or at the apex of the marking.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Twig tethered to a twig

Geometrid larva (subfamily Ennominae?) | Plymouth, North Carolina

Geometrid larva (subfamily Ennominae?) | Plymouth, North Carolina

In September I visited soybean field trials across the southeastern U.S. It’s a trip I’ve done every year for the past I don’t know how many years and one that I enjoy immensely due to the opportunities it gives me to see the country, kick the dirt with academic cooperators, sample the local cuisine… and photograph insects. New for me this year was the Carolinas, and in a soybean field in Plymouth, North Carolina I encountered this geometrid larva on the stub of a soybean leaf petiole. Geometrid larvae are known variously as inchworms, cankerworms, spanworms, measuring worms, loopers, etc., depending on the species. Most of the common names refer to the same thing that the family name does—the larval method of locomotion whereby the caterpillar—possessing legs only at the two extremes of its body—”inches” its way along as if measuring the ground it walks on (Geometridae is derived from the Latin geometra, or “earth-measurer”). The resemblance of the larvae of many species to dead twig stumps is nothing short of remarkable, and had it not been for the contrasting coloration I may never have noticed the larva in the first place. I also did not notice until looking at it through the macro lens of my camera the tether attached by the larva to the tip of the twig—invisible to the naked eye but providing energy-saving stabilization for the larva to hold its cryptic position.

I’ve not encountered a geometrid larva in soybeans before, and my impression has been that they are largely deciduous tree feeders (perhaps due to the periodic occurrence in my area of outbreak species such as fall cankerworm). In trying to determine the species, I found no geometrids covered in the Higley & Boethel (1994) handbook on U.S. pests, and when I consulted the Turnipseed & Kogan (1976) and Kogan (1987) global reviews of soybean pests I found reference only to a few minor pests in India and southeast Asia. Hmm, time for BugGuide. Of course, lepidopteran larvae are not nearly as well represented as the adults, but it seemed most similar to species of the subfamily Ennominae, so I turned to Google and searched on “Ennominae soybean.” This turned up Passoa (1983), who reported larvae of Anacamptodes herse as pests of soybean in Honduras (and mentioned references to several other geometrid species associated with soybean in Brazil). Back to BugGuide, where I found the genus Anacamptodes listed as a synonym of Iridopsis, but the species I. herse was not among the list of species represented in the guide. Checking the link provided at the site to a revision of the genus by Rindge (1966) revealed that I. herse is strictly a Central American species. Perhaps another, North American species of the genus also favors soybean, which led me to Wagner (2005) who mentions soybean as a favored food plant for I. humilis. However, the contrasting purple-brown/yellow-green coloration and relatively thickened body of that species are quite unlike this individual. I don’t have Wagner’s book (only his smaller one on caterpillars of eastern forests—no match in there, either), so it may be that my only remaining option is to post the photo at BugGuide and hope that David Wagner encounters it (actually I should get David’s book anyway)¹.

¹ Update 10/5/13 11:30 am CDT—or hope that Brigette Zacharczenko runs into the post via Facebook and offers to pass it along to Dave during their lab meeting on Monday.


Higley, L. G. & D. J. Boethel [eds.]. 1994. Handbook of Soybean Insect Pests. The Entomological Society of America, Lanham, Maryland, 136 pp. [sample pages].

Kogan, M. 1987. Ecology and management of soybean arthropods. Annual Review of Entomology 32:507–538 [pdf].

Passoa, S. 1983. Immature stages of Anacamptodes herse (Schaus) (Geometridae) on soybean in Honduras. Journal of The Lepidopterists’ Society 37(3):217–223 [pdf].

Rindge, F. H. 1966. A revision of the moth genus Anacamptodes (Lepidoptera, Geometridae) (1966). Bulletin of the America Museum of Natural History 132(3):174–244 [pdf].

Turnipseed, S. G. & M. Kogan. 1976. Soybean entomology. Annual Review of Entomology 21:247–282 [pdf].

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Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013