Spodoptera littoralis (cotton leafworm)
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Distribution Table
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Hosts/Species Affected
- Host Plants and Other Plants Affected
- Growth Stages
- List of Symptoms/Signs
- Biology and Ecology
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Detection and Inspection
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Spodoptera littoralis (Boisduval)
Preferred Common Name
- cotton leafworm
Other Scientific Names
- Hadena littoralis Boisduval
- Noctua gossypii
- Prodenia littoralis (Boisduval)
- Prodenia litura Fabricius sensu auctorum
- Prodenia retina (Freyer)
- Prodenia testaceoides Guenee
International Common Names
- English: Egyptian cotton leafworm; Egyptian cotton worm; leafworm, Egyptian cotton; Mediterranean brocade moth; Mediterranean climbing cutworm; Mediterranean climbing cutworm; tobacco caterpillar; tomato caterpillar
- Spanish: gusano negro; rosquilla negra
- French: noctuelle méditerranéenne; ver du coton
Local Common Names
- Denmark: afrikansk bomuldsugle
- Finland: krysanteemiyökönnen
- Germany: Afrikanischer Baumwollwurm
- Sweden: afrikanskt bomullsfly
- SPODLI (Spodoptera littoralis)
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Metazoa
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Subphylum: Uniramia
- Class: Insecta
- Order: Lepidoptera
- Family: Noctuidae
- Genus: Spodoptera
- Species: Spodoptera littoralis
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
DescriptionTop of page
Spherical, somewhat flattened, 0.6 mm in diameter, laid in clusters arranged in more or less regular rows in one to three layers, with hair scales derived from the tip of the abdomen of the female moth. Usually whitish-yellow in colour, changing to black just prior to hatching, due to the big head of the larva showing through the transparent shell (Pinhey, 1975).
Larvae grow to 40-45 mm and are hairless, cylindrical, tapering towards the posterior and variable in colour (blackish-grey to dark green, becoming reddish-brown or whitish-yellow). The sides of the body have dark and light longitudinal bands; dorsal side with two dark semilunar spots laterally on each segment, except for the prothorax; spots on the first and eighth abdominal segments larger than the others, interrupting the lateral lines on the first segment. The larva of S. littoralis is figured by Bishari (1934) and Brown and Dewhurst (1975).
When newly formed, pupae are green with a reddish colour on the abdomen, turining dark reddish-brown after a few hours. The general shape is cylindrical, 14-20 x 5 mm, tapering towards the posterior segments of the abdomen. The last segment ends in two strong straight hooks (Pinhey, 1975).
Moth with grey-brown body, 15-20 mm long; wingspan 30-38 mm; forewings grey to reddish brown with paler lines along the veins (in males, bluish areas occur on the wing base and tip); the ocellus is marked by two or three oblique whitish stripes. Hindwings are greyish white, irridescent with grey margins and usually lack darker veins (EPPO, 1997).
DistributionTop of page
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 15 Dec 2020
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Central African Republic||Present|
|Congo, Democratic Republic of the||Present|
|Congo, Republic of the||Present|
|Equatorial Guinea||Present, Localized|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||Present|
|South Africa||Present, Widespread|
|Pakistan||Absent, Formerly present|
|Turkey||Present, Localized||First reported: 197*|
|United Arab Emirates||Present|
|Croatia||Absent, Confirmed absent by survey|
|Denmark||Absent, Intercepted only|
|France||Present, Few occurrences|
|Netherlands||Absent, Eradicated||Absent, pest eradicated, confirmed by survey. Based on long-term annual surveys, 362 survey observations in 2012.|
|-Balearic Islands||Present, Localized|
|Sweden||Absent, Formerly present|
|Switzerland||Absent, Formerly present|
|United Kingdom||Absent, Eradicated|
|-England||Absent, Formerly present|
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
S. littoralis first appeared in UK glasshouses in considerable numbers in 1963. It was found that the eggs were being introduced on imported cuttings, especially chrysanthemums and carnations.
Habitat ListTop of page
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page
In many of the published reports of host plants, it is difficult to distinguish between S. littoralis and S. litura but the tabular data refers entirely to records from the distribution area of the former. Both species are totally polyphagous (Brown and Dewhurst, 1975; Holloway, 1989).
Host Plants and Other Plants AffectedTop of page
Growth StagesTop of page
SymptomsTop of page
On cotton, the larvae feed on the leaves creating large holes of irregular shape and usually all that remains are the bigger veins. The larvae may also bore into the bud or young boll and consume the whole contents, causing them to be shed or dry up (Bishari, 1934). Bolls have large holes in them from which yellowish- to dark-green larval excrement protrudes. On tobacco, leaves develop irregular, brownish-red patches and the stem base may be gnawed off. Maize stems are often mined by S. littoralis and young grains in the ear may also be damaged.
List of Symptoms/SignsTop of page
|Fruit / frass visible|
|Fruit / internal feeding|
|Fruit / obvious exit hole|
|Fruit / premature drop|
|Leaves / external feeding|
|Leaves / shredding|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
On pupation the fully grown larva pushes the loose surface of the soil downwards until it reaches more solid ground 3-5 cm deep. It then creates a clay 'cell' or cocoon in which it usually pupates within 5-6 hours (Pinhey, 1975).
Emergence of adult moths occurs at night and they have a life span of 5-10 days (Shalama and Shoukry, 1972). The reproductive capacity, egg facility and life span of moths are affected by the difference in ages between males and females. The highest ratio of egg fertility was obtained by mating between 4-day-old males with fresh females (Nasr and Nassif, 1978). There is also a correlation between the host plant and the longevity and fecundity of S. littoralis (Dimetry and Nadia, 1972). The majority of adults mate on the first night of emergence, copulation lasting for 20 minutes to 2 hours. Approximately 50% of mated females lay their eggs on the same night of mating, before sunrise (Hassan et al., 1960). Adults fly at night, mostly between 20.00 and midnight (Nasr et al., 1981). Flight activity is governed by atmospheric conditions, increases in relative humidity and decreases in air temperature inducing flight (Hassan et al., 1960). The flight range during a 4-hour-period can be up to 1.5 km (Salama and Shoukry, 1972).
The moths have chemoreceptors on the ventral surface of the tarsi and the distal portion of the proboscis. These are highly sensitive and respond to a certain number of sugars mainly present in nectar. Pheromones (comprising of tetradecadien-1-ol acetates) have been isolated and successfully used in traps (Kehat and Gordon, 1975; Campion, 1977).
The minimum constant temperature for normal development in all stages is 13-14°C. Resistance to cold generally increases through the larval stages and is greatest in the pupal stage (Miller, 1977). At 18°C, egg, larval and pupal stages last 9, 34 and 27 days, respectively. At 36°C, egg, larval and pupal stages last 2, 10 and 8 days, respectively. Data on survival and development at different temperatures are provided by Sidibe and Lauge (1977), Baker and Miller (1974) and Ocete Rubio (1984). Information on development on different host crops is given by Dimetry and Nadia (1972), Hirakly and Bishara (1974), Abdal-Fattah (1977), Zoebelein (1977) and Badr et al. (1983). Studies in Egypt indicate that there are seven overlapping generations of S. littoralis when feeding on cotton, and that there are three peak infestation periods (El-Shafei et al., 1981; Khalifa et al., 1982).
Natural enemiesTop of page
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
Generalist predators of S. littoralis include ladybirds, which feed on egg masses and young larvae, Paedeus fuscipes (staphylinid rover beetle), Orius albidipennis, Labidura riparia, Creontiades pallidus, Calosoma chlorostictum and Polistes gallicus.
ImpactTop of page
In Europe, damage caused by S. littoralis was minimal until about 1937. In 1949, there was a catastrophic population explosion in southern Spain, which affected lucerne, potatoes and other vegetable crops. At present, this noctuid is of great economic importance in Cyprus, Israel, Malta, Morocco and Spain (except the north). In Italy, it is especially important on protected crops of ornamentals and vegetables (Inserra and Calabretta, 1985; Nucifora, 1985). In Greece, S. littoralis causes slight damage in Crete on lucerne
and clover only.
In North Africa, tomato, Capsicum, cotton, maize and other vegetables are affected. In Egypt, it is one of the most serious cotton pests.
Detection and InspectionTop of page
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
S. littoralis is often confused with S. litura, and the variability and similarity of the two species makes correct identification difficult and examination of adult genitalia is often the only certain method. For more information on morphological discrimination between the adult, pupal and larval stages of the two species, refer to Schmutterer (1969), Cayrol (1972), Mochida (1973) and Brown and Dewhurst (1975).
Although markings on larvae are variable, a bright-yellow stripe along the length of the dorsal surface is characteristic of S. litura.
On dissection of the genitalia, the ductus and ostium bursae are the same length in female S. littoralis, whereas they are different lengths in S. litura. The shape of the juxta in males in both species is very characteristic, and the ornamentation of the aedeagus vesica is also diagnostic.
An EPPO standard provides guidance for the identification of S. littoralis, S. litura, S. frugiperda and S. eridania (OEPP/EPPO, 2015).
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
Numerous studies have been carried out on possible biological control of S. littoralis. Parasitoids (braconids, encyrtids, tachinids and ichneumonids) and predators have been extensively documented. A nuclear polyhedrosis virus has been evaluated against S. litura (Elnagar and El-Sheikh, 1990; Jones et al., 1994), whereas fungi and microsporidia have also been recorded as pathogens. Parasitic nematodes such as Neoaplectana carpocapsae have also been evaluated. However, direct use of these biocontrol agents has not been commercailized. Treatment with Bacillus thuringiensis has been used (Navon et al., 1983), but only some strains are effective as S. littoralis is resistant to many strains (Salama et al., 1989).
The chemical control of S. littoralis has been extensively reported, especially in relation to cotton in Egypt. Numerous organophosphorus, synthetic pyrethroids and other insecticides have been used, with appearance of resistance and cross resistance in many cases (Issa et al., 1984a; 1984b; Abo-El-Ghar et al., 1986). However, compulsory limitation of the application of synthetic pyrethroids to one per year on cotton in Egypt has stopped the appearance of new resistance (Sawicki, 1986).
Chemicals used against species of Spodoptera also include insect growth regulators. There is interest, especially in India, in various antifeedant compounds or extracts, and in natural products, such as azadirachtin and neem extracts.
Integrated pest management techniques, favouring beneficial arthropods, are applied against S. littoralis on cotton in Egypt. These involve hand collection of egg masses, use of microbial pesticides and insect growth regulators and slow-release pheromone formulations for mating disruption. If these measures are taken, relatively few applications of conventional insecticides are necessary (Campion and Nesbitt, 1982; Hosny et al., 1983; Campion and Hosny, 1987). Damage thresholds have been established by Hosny et al. (1986). Pheromones have also been used for mass trapping using a lure and kill strategy (McVeigh and Bettany, 1987) and for monitoring populations. Souka (1980) experimented with irradiation for sterile-insect release, but this technique has not been widely applied in the field.
For planting material, EPPO recommends (OEPP/EPPO, 1990) absence of the pests from the place of production during the last 3 months, or treatment of the consignment. For cut flowers, pre-export inspection is considered sufficient.
Cold storage of chrysanthemum and carnation cuttings for at least 10 days at a temperature not exceeding 1.7°C will kill all stages of S. littoralis, but may damage the plants. Storage at slightly higher temperatures or shorter durations does not eradicate S. littoralis, but differences in response to cold have been observed both between strains and within developmental stages of the pest (Powell and Gostick, 1971; Miller, 1976). Irradiation has been investigated as a treatment for cut flowers (Navon et al., 1988). For cut chrysanthemum flowers, Wang and Lin (1984) suggest enclosing buds in perforated polythene bags to exclude the pest and dipping the cut stems in insecticide solutions.
ReferencesTop of page
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Chen BoSheng, Teh BengSoon, Sun Chao, Hu SiRui, Lu XingMeng, Boland W, Shao YongQi, 2016. Biodiversity and activity of the gut microbiota across the life history of the insect herbivore Spodoptera littoralis. Scientific Reports. 6 (1), 29505. DOI:10.1038/srep29505
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Lanzoni A, Bazzocchi G G, Reggiori F, Rama F, Sannino L, Maini S, Burgio G, 2012. Spodoptera littoralis male capture suppression in processing spinach using two kinds of synthetic sex-pheromone dispensers. Bulletin of Insectology. 65 (2), 311-318. http://www.bulletinofinsectology.org/
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