Armyworms are not just your typical worms – they are actually caterpillars. These insects are the larvae of the armyworm moth. They are known as turf and crop feeders and are a threat to homeowners and commercial growers alike. Many caterpillars have a significant appetite, and armyworms are some of the worst offenders. Before the moth stage, you will see these worms taking over landscapes from all over. Armyworms are vicious, but they are not unstoppable.
In their early stage of growth, armyworms appear light green or tan, and as they mature, they become a dark green or brown. They are nearly hairless and will usually have a series of stripes down their bodies that can be green, yellow, or brown. Armyworms go through four stages of growth, which include – egg, larvae, pupae, and adult. Once they are fully grown in the larvae stage, they will be about 1 ½ to 2 inches long. Once they become adults, they do no harm besides laying eggs for the next generation of feeders to come. The complete life cycle of an armyworm lasts only 30-60 days in the late summer or early fall and up to 90 days in the winter. Because of this quick cycle, they can rapidly breed and multiply. A single armyworm moth can lay 1500-2000 eggs that only take 1-3 days to turn into armyworm larvae. When you have 1000’s of armyworm moths laying eggs in your neighborhood – you can see how big of a problem they can become very quickly.
Armyworm moths get caught up in air currents that sometimes push large colonies into the metro Atlanta area from the Southern United States. Within a week, millions of armyworm eggs are laid and hatched. Farmers and homeowners usually start noticing armyworms in August. They love to feed off of seeding crops which including hay, wheat, grain sorghum, fescue, and soybeans, and other grasses. Armyworms also love to infest cotton and corn fields. They will usually become a persistent problem for a community until the first wave of freezing temperatures kills them off. These worms are found throughout the United States, Canada, Russia, Australia, and Africa. Armyworms prefer a warm, moist climate.
Tricks to Check Your Turf
There are a few DIY (do it yourself) ways to check for armyworms on your property. One method includes mixing about two tablespoons of lemon-scented dishwashing detergent in one gallon of water and pour it over a one square foot area of the lawn. The armyworms will quickly rise to the top of the sod if they are present. If they do not rise to the top, you do not have armyworms. Another way to check for armyworms is to get a gallon can with both ends removed and a bucket of soapy water. Plunge the can into the ground and fill it with the soapy water. The caterpillars will begin to float to the surface. These are two ways to check for armyworms so you can start treatment if armyworms appear.
Keep an Eye Out For Them
In 2012, there was a significant issue with armyworms in Georgia, especially around hay fields. A plus about living in Georgia (or any area that has colder winters) is that armyworms cannot survive even the mildest winters. Armyworms can do massive damage to pastures and hayfields along with the crops on each property. Once the pests invade an area, they will do damage until they leave and find another property to destroy.
One excellent warning sign that your yard is under attack by armyworms is you will see flocks of birds feeding on your lawn. Birds are the #1 predator of armyworms so if you see lots of bird activity on your property take a closer look and see what they’re feeding on.
How to Treat Armyworms
If you have an armyworm breakout on your lawn, it is imperative to act quickly. They can wipe out an entire lawn in a single day. Homeowners have two real options – either treat them yourself with a product you can purchase from a hardware store or hire a lawn service or pest control company. If you are buying a product from a hardware store, make sure it lists armyworms as a pest it should control. Hardware stores sell several broad-spectrum pest control products that you can attach to your hose and spray an entire lawn easily. Pest control and lawn service companies have access to broad-spectrum pest control products that require a license to obtain that can easily treat and save your lawn for you. It is advised to act quickly during outbreaks because these service companies can get overrun with calls during massive outbreaks.