Diamondback Moth


USDA-APHIS has prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) that will guide the agency's decision in approving or denying a field release of genetically-engineered diamondback moths.

Some things you should know:

  • Cornell University has been conducting research on alternative ways to manage DBM by releasing genetically-engineered diamondback moths.
  • The 'sterile insect technique' has been an IPM concept for over 60 years, and involves releasing irradiated males into a wild population. It is different than the transgenic approach being proposed.
  • According to the applicant, the GE-DBMs may serve as an insecticide-free means of controlling field populations of DBM in a species-specific manner.
  • Moths would have two adaptations: a 'self-limiting gene' that results in female mortality, and a flourescent red marker to distinguish GE from non-GE insects.
  • Releases would be made on New York State Agricultural Experimental Station acreage.
  • To review all documents in the docket, and provide comment visit http://bit.ly/2pms59T
  • All comments must recieved (either online or via mail, address at link) BY MAY 19th.
For convenience of VegNet subscribers, I have made this summary table. However, please do your own research and comment on this issue if it is important to you.
Supporters Opponents
Think the field release should be approved Think the field release should not be approved
Example comment Example comment (for a previous version)
Reasons include: Reasons include:
targeted IPM approach, innovative research, USDA found no significant impact (2015) unknown fate of larvae, ecological interactions, not enough evidence


Current Pest Status and Research in Oregon

The 2015 Valley-wide average detection of DBM was greater than the historical average (1999-2011) for 8 of the 22 sampled weeks. Processed vegetable growers at certain locations were plagued with DBM last year, and some reported that their insecticide regime wasn’t working as well as in years prior. At this point, it is unclear if the increased pressure is due to mild winters which could be causing populations to build up over the winter, or potential insecticide resistance. 

Diamondback moth is one of the world's most difficult-to-control pests because it has developed resistance to multiple insecticides. Currently, insecticide resistance (IR) has been noted in over 600 cases, for nearly 100 unique active ingredients including carbamates, pyrethroids, and spinosyns. The most recent concern of IR is within the diamide insecticides, which includes products that Willamette-Valley brassica producers rely on such as chlorantraniliprole, cyantraniliprole, and flubendiamide. Trade names include Coragen, Exirel, Synapse, and Belt.

In order to better assess the current and potential risks of diamondback moth in the Willamette Valley (WV), we need to increase our sample sizeCollecting data from multiple WV sites will help us determine why DBM is on the rise in this area. That’s where you come in!

To aid our 2017 research efforts, we are currently seeking:

  • Brassica producers, field scouts, and consultants
  • Access to broccoli, cauliflower, radish, or cabbage fields
  • Willing to monitor traps weekly
Monitoring process: Set DBM trap (wingtrap + non-toxic pheromone lure + sticky liner) just above the crop canopy at field edge. Return weekly to count moths and replace liner if necessary. Report numbers to OSU. That’s it! A 3-minute instructional video on how to assemble a pheromone trap can be found here, and we will supply all needed training and materials. In return, you will receive a weekly report of Valley-wide DBM trends and how they relate to your monitored field site.


Diamondback Moth (Plutella xylostella)

pupa          adult moth

Diamondback Moth pupa                                  Diamondback Moth adult  (Photos by Ken Gray)

window panes       

Diamondback Moth larvae and “window panes” associated with their feeding (Photo by Dan McGrath)

How to ID Pest

Diamondback larvae are smaller than most caterpillars that infest broccoli and cauliflower, about 8 mm when fully grown. Diamondback moth larvae are ready to move up into the broccoli and cauliflower to form their pupa when they are about one half inches long. The larva has two legs (prolegs) on the last segment forming a V-shape at the rear end. A very distinctive feature of this pest is when disturbed, the larvae wiggle frantically backwards and drop off the leave attached to a silken line. This behavior cue is useful for identifying the small larvae in the field. Adult moths are small, slender, and grayish brown. Male moths display three ivory diamond-shaped markings on their back. Although you will see pictures of diamondback eggs in the literature, they are very difficult to detect in the field. The eggs are laid closely oppressed to the under surface of the leaves. When the tiny larvae hatch, they immediately begin to mine the leaf mesophyll below the egg. This produces tiny depressions in the leaf surface called “window panes”. The larvae leave the upper surface of the leaf (epidermis) intact. This feeding behavior is unique to the diamondback larvae. When scouting a field, the percentage of leaves with fresh of window panes is an indication of egg laying pressure by the diamondback moth.


During a normal winter, the adult diamondback moth overwinters in trash and debris in and around crop fields. Adults emerge in early summer and lay eggs singly or in twos or threes mainly on the upper sides of leaves. The eggs hatch in 4 to 8 days. Larvae feed mostly on the undersides of outer or older leaves of older plants, chewing out small holes, and mature in 10 to 30 days. They then spin loose white cocoons, which they attach to leaves, stems, and the heads of broccoli and cauliflower, where they pupate. Adults emerge in 10 to 14 days. There may be four to six overlapping generations each year.

The 45th parallel latitude occurs in Salem, Oregon. Above the 45th parallel, the diamondback moth typically does not survive the winter. But this depends on the winter. In some winters, the moth population dies out and must reinvade the Willamette Valley from the south. In many cases, when the diamondback populations die out, it re-establishes itself in the Valley by riding in on brassica seedlings imported from California or it simply flies north one planting at a time. In either case, when the diamondback population has to reinvade the Willamette Valley, the population gets a late start. Fewer generations occur during the growing season and pest pressure is diminished. However, during a mild winter, the diamondback population could survive and continue to reproduce on fall-seeded brassica crops. With increasing acreages of overwintering radish and cabbage seed crops, we see more incidences of multiple generations of diamondback moth per season.


Crops Affected & Damage

Cabbage and broccoli are the preferred host of this pest, but it also attacks other cole family crops and cruciferous weeds. Larvae feed mostly on outer or older leaves of older plants, chewing out small holes, or at the growing points of young plants. They also feed on floral stalks and flower buds. In Oregon, the damage from this pest is not so much from feeding as from contamination by pupae. Late stage instars crawl into stems infesting the harvested portion of broccoli and cauliflower crops.

diamondback moth damage

"Window pane" damage from Diamondback Moth larvae

(Photo from the Ministry of Agriculture Food & Rural Affairs)


Scouting & Monitoring

Scouting for diamondback moth larvae and pupae can be done by pulling 10 leaves from 10 different spots in the field, totalling 100 leaves. Inspect for signs of “window panes”, larvae and pupa on each leaf.

Wing traps with a pheromone lure and a sticky bottom can be used to monitor adult Diamondback Moth populations. Place the traps along a field edge and just above the crop canopy.

Diamondback moths are monitored with pheromone traps

Assessing Risk

Sex pheromone traps are useful tools for detecting the flights of the adult diamondback moth. Researchers recommend that wing trap or delta trap styles with sticky inserts be used to capture adult moths. Pheromone traps should be suspended about 3 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters) high at the field’s edge. Traps indicate when moths have arrived in an area and give an indication of their relative numbers. High numbers of adults (>100 moths per week per trap) captured in the traps during bloom to early pod development provide an early warning that significant larval infestation may follow. Fields should be monitored for larvae then to assess the numbers of larvae present.

Risk assessment for DBM larvae contaminating broccoli and cauliflower should be made using a combination of pheromone trap counts (an indication of egg laying pressure) and field scouting. During field scouting, the scout moves across the field pulling a leaf from a plant every time he/she steps across a row. Scouts generally pull ten leaves, examine them, then pull an additional ten leaves. Chose leaves that are not too small and not too big. Leaves should be mature and unfolded, but not old and discolored. The larval count, instar or developmental stage, and the development stage of the crop should all be considered. The greatest risk of contamination by diamondback moth occurs when the larvae are numerous, the larvae are mature (about one half inch long) and the broccoli or cauliflower buds are expanding and elongating. The risk is that the fourth instar diamondback larvae will crawl up into the elongating heads and form their pupae there.

Control Methods

Natural Control: A number of natural factors can affect populations of diamondback moths negatively. For example, heavy rainfalls and irrigation can drown many small larvae (first or second instar). Humid conditions associated with rainfall or irrigation can favor the development of lethal fungal diseases, such as Entomophthorales. In addition, cool, windy weather reduces adult activity and females often die before they lay all of their eggs.

Biological Control: Various parasitoid wasps -- Diadegma insulare (Cresson), Microplitis plutellae (Muesebeck), and Diadromus subtilicornis (Gravenhorst)] and the egg parasite Trichogramma pretiosum can be important factors in controlling diamondback moth populations. In addition, fungal diseases play an important role in controlling moth populations. Disease outbreaks typically occur later in the growing season when diamondback moth populations are larger and weather conditions are more favorable for the fungi to develop. Generalist insect predators (predaceous arthropods), such as ground beetles, true bugs, syrphid fly larvae, lacewing larvae and spiders play a small but important role in reducing diamondback numbers.

Cultural Control: Young larvae are particularly susceptible to heavy rainfall and sprinkler irrigation.

Chemical Control: Diamondback moth is one of the world's most difficult-to-control pests because it has developed resistance to multiple insecticides. Currently, insecticide resistance (IR) has been noted in over 600 cases, for nearly 100 unique active ingredient families including carbamates, pyrethroids, spinosyns, and most recently, diamides. Choosing a management plan that rotates among insecticides with different modes of action (MoA) is the best approach to preventing resistance. More information can be found here.

Bt (derived from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis) is a microbial protein that is poisonous to moths and butterflies. It is biologically rational in the sense that it is highly targeted. It is a stomach poison ingested only by insects attaching the crop plant. Bt is not highly toxic to other species of insects. It is not highly toxic to mammals. It has a short residual life in the environment. When larvae are small, or infestation levels are low, Bt may be effective, and as an added benefit, is relatively safe to beneficials (natural enemies of DBM). However, it will not likely control major outbreaks of DBM.

Please consult the PNW Insect Management Handbook for other pesticide recommendations.

References and Citations

Fleischer, Shelby. 2009. "Diamondback Moth." Pennsylvania State University College of Agricultural Sciences, Etomology. (http://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/diamondback-moth).

Hollingsworth, Craig S. (Ed.). 2011. Pacific Northwest Insect Management Handbook. Corvallis: Oregon State University.

Natwick, E.T. 2010. "UC IPM Pest Management Guidlines: Cole Crops, Diamondback Moth." University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources. (http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/r108301311.html).