Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Aug 15, 2012
Project End Date
Aug 14, 2015
Grant Year
Project Director
Tooker, J. F.
Recipient Organization
Performing Department
Non Technical Summary
This two-year research project involves a collaboration of researchers from three state universities to focus on western bean cutworm (WBC), a critical emerging invasive insect pest that poses a significant threat to corn and dry bean production in the northeast. Our proposed work will track the current geographic extent of WBC activity, assess the risk western bean cutworm poses to growers in Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont, integrate existing northeast and Great Lakes regional trap capture and larval infestations data into the PestWatch system to understand the spread of WBC and the regional threat to production in the Northeast, and develop a new pest management tool that has strong potential to help control this insect pest including using regional data to evaluate the relevance for the Northeast of the Midwestern degree day model for predicting various activity periods.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Goals / Objectives
Western bean cutworm (WBC; Striacosta albicosta) has invaded the Northeast Region in recent years. This pest species new to the Northeast attacks corn (Zea mays; including field & sweet corn) and both dry beans and snap beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), feeding on developing corn kernels or beans. Infestations of WBC larvae can reduce yield 30-40% and cause crop quality to be down graded or rejected by processors. Corn and bean production is vital to the diversified agricultural economy of the Northeast, including dairies and vegetable farms, and accounts for more than 7 million acres of cropland in the region. Our collaborative research proposal seeks to understand the spread of this pest species and the threat it poses, across a significant portion of the Northeast Region, where it has the potential to cause significant damage and prompt widespread increases in insecticide use, and begins the work of developing an IPM plan to manage WBC. Our objectives include: 1) Develop a regional western bean cutworm monitoring network; 2) Integrate existing Great Lakes regional trap capture data into the PestWatch system to understand the spread of WBC and develop a smartphone/web app to report larval infestations into the PestWatch system; 3) Evaluate the relevance for the Northeast of the Midwestern degree day model for predicting various activity periods. These objectives combine practical efforts to understand the distribution of the WBC in the Northeast with promising applied efforts to manage this invasive pest species.
Project Methods
We will deploy a network to trap male western bean cutworm (WBC) moths at numerous locations throughout New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont to determine the geographic distribution and seasonal activity and magnitude of adult western bean cutworm populations. Trapping efforts will also track the species spread and help predict likelihood of this pest species causing economic damage. With the new data generated by our trapping efforts, we will modernize the Penn State-based Pestwatch reporting system (first placed on line in its current form in 2003). This online reporting tool has been widely used to report insect pest populations associated with sweet corn. Increasingly, the system is being used to accumulated activity data for pests of field corn. With this increased usage, we want to improve the system's utility. We will improve the system's flexibility in data contribution and analysis, while at the same time bringing the power and capability of a full content management system environment to the challenge of recording and reporting insect populations. We will enter into the PestWatch online reporting system historic western bean cutworm data from MI, OH, Ontario, and Indiana for the past few years when western bean cutworm first invaded those states/provinces. We will create a new data contribution interface for Pestwatch as well as improved data access and analysis tools to study the spatial and temporal distribution of WBC. The new data contribution interface will include the capability for entomology/extension specialists to submit their observations via a tab- or space-delimited file upload that will then be parsed and integrated into the full Pestwatch database. After we gather the trapping data in the proper format, the PestWatch system will accurately map and animate the spread of moths across the states, which will allow us to see where the moths are most numerous and problematic. Combined with Objective 3, this effort will allow us to develop, assess and refine predictive models of flight activity for moths in the Northeast. Using the dataset accumulated in Objective 2, we will work with our colleagues at Penn State's Center for Environmental Informatics to assess phenology of WBC moths via trap captures. Our database will contain trap captures for at least the past three years from Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. For each location in each state (hundreds of locations), we will generate phenology models based on relative activity of the total number of moths captured at each trap. Growing degree-days (GDD) will be accumulated from January 1st (50 degree F base). Models will be average across states and then compare to the currently available model. Results and associated recommendations will be distributed in the Northeast as well as the Midwest, particularly to those states that contributed data.

Progress 08/15/12 to 08/14/15

Target Audience:Farmers, Extension staff, other agricultural professionals, entomologists Changes/Problems:The only problem we encountered was our information technology collaborators have been slow to finish up the project, delaying release of the new version of PestWatch and the mobile application. This delay did not change the course of the project; these items will just be released in the coming months rather than by the termination date as originally intended. What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided?Throughout the project, extension educators and crop consultants were the primary collaborators checking pheromone traps for moths. Participating in this activity, exposed these agricultural professionals to the benefits of understanding local pest populations. Whether they were in NY experiencing thousands of moths per trap, or in Pennsylvania or Vermont with very few moths, these participants experienced the value of knowing the risk posed to local crops by pest populations. Seeing thousands of moths in a trap will readily convince a cooperator that local populations are growing, particularly after seeing lower populations in previous years. Further, our sharing our results with extension educators and other agricultural professionals has provided us the opportunity to talk to them about the project more broadly has provided opportunities to talk about pest biology, pest monitoring, and integrated pest management How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest?We exposed agricultural professionals to our project and its results through extension presentations and extension newsletter articles in PA, NY, VT, reaching thousands of people. We also presented two poster presentations at the Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America. What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals? Nothing Reported

What was accomplished under these goals? Over the duration of our project the monitoring network we deployed revealed that western bean cutworm moth populations behaved quite differently in the three states (Table 1). In Vermont, which we hypothesized to be about the leading edge of the expanding populations, populations remained low over the three years of the project with traps capturing 82, 22, and 100 moths in 2012, 2013, and 2014, respectively (Table 1). In Pennsylvania, the populations grow over time, but stayed relatively modest, particularly compared to the number of moths captured in New York or in other Great Lakes States. We captured around 360 moths in both 2010 and 2011. Then in 2012 this total increased to 1288 moths, followed by 418 moths in 2013 and 1518 in 2014 (Table 1). In contrast, the populations of moths in New York grew substantial larger, increasing steadily from 702 in 2010 to 11,232 in 2014; this latter value is nearly three times the total number of moth capture in Pennsylvania during the same five year period (Table 1). Our monitoring network illustrated that western bean cutworm spread across the three states since they were first discovered in Pennsylvania 2009. Now moth populations are highest along the coast of Lakes Erie and Ontario. In Pennsylvania, the largest populations of moths have been captured in the northwestern most corner, Erie County, with our next highest populations occurring in our northern tier of counties, just south of New York. In New York, the highest populations are close to the lakes, particularly off the eastern end of both lakes and north of Rt. 90 near Lake Ontario. This distribution close to Lake Erie and Lake Ontario suggests that some factor associated with the lakes is fostering these larger populations. We hypothesized that this factor may be related to soil type because western bean cutworm overwinters in the soil and its winter mortality is associated with the depth of the overwintering burrows created by the larvae. By collaborating with a soil scientist proficient with GIS (geographic information systems), we were able to compared trap locations with soil types. And while trap location may not be associated with overwintering location, 70% of moths were captured on coarser textured soils (lighter) while 33.4% were in fine textured soils (heavier). Notably, 39% of captures occurred on fine silty soils (intermediate soil class), which dominate the region along the two lakes. While this analysis is imperfect because we do not know where moths overwintered, if we assume moths came from reasonably nearby, it suggests that soil type may help explain why the largest populations of western bean cutworm moths are close to the Great Lakes, and our working hypothesis is that soil type may be facilitating winter survival. One detail to keep in mind about our project is that we are dealing with male moths, the populations of which do not necessarily correlate to those of female moths, which are of course the source of eggs. This potential disconnect between male and female moths may help explain why to our knowledge no western bean cutworm caterpillars have been found in Vermont and very few have been found in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania we confirmed identity of one moth in Centre County, PA, close to State College, and found one fields in Potter County (just south of New York) that appeared to have some ears infested with young western bean cutworm caterpillars, though the populations was too small to be considered economically significant. In contrast, populations of caterpillars in New York have been quite a bit larger, perhaps not surprising given the strong moth populations that we detected along Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. In fact, populations in far northern New York, east of Lake Ontario, have been large enough to cause economic damage. As a result, corn farmers in portions of the state with large numbers of moths have been adopting Bt corn hybrids with transgenic resistance against western bean cutworm caterpillar, namely the Herculex trait (Cry1F). In addition to tracking populations of western bean cutworm in Pennsylvania, New York, and Vermont, our goal was to improve the PestWatch database and online tools to facilitate entry of future collections of moths and better evaluate the population data that have already been collected. To this end, we produced a mobile application for smartphones with which cooperators can directly enter their data right into the PestWatch database. We also revamped PestWatch itself including the front-end user interface and the database to facilitate more user-controlled content manipulation and analyses; and hope to have these features available to the public in the coming months. Among the new features is a queryable database which can be used to make maps showing distribution of moths and a growing-degree-day tool, which allows a user to understand the phenology of western bean cutworm based on accumulated heat units at a particular trapping location. We also accumulated data from other Great Lakes states that have experienced invading populations of western bean cutworm over the past seven or so years. Collaborating with extension entomologists in those states and the province of Ontario, we incorporated their moth captures into PestWatch. Now we can use these accumulated data from each state (WI, IN, OH, MI) to assess the validity of Midwestern based phenology models to predict peak moth flight and determine whether western bean cutworm is behaving differently now that it is in the eastern US.


    Progress 08/15/13 to 08/14/14

    Target Audience: Farmer, Extension staff, other agricultural professionals, andentomologists Changes/Problems: Moth populations for Pennsylvania for the most part have been low. This limits our ability to predict future flight activity, but this is out of our hands SYs for this reporting period equaled .036. Due to the rounding in REEport being reflected as 0.0 effort. What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided? Extension educators and other agricultural professionals have performed the trapping, learning about pest biology, pest monitoring, and integrated pest management How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest? Extension presentations in PA, NY, and VT. Extension newsletters in the three states as well. Our team also presented a poster on our project at the Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America, which was held in Austin, TX (November 2013). What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals? We will run the full degree-day model, helping predict key activity periods for western bean cutworm moths.

    What was accomplished under these goals? We have tracked the expansion of western bean cutworm in 2012, 2013, and 2014 in NY, PA, and VT. We have accumulated and entered into the PestWatch database trap captures from 2009 through 2013 for IN, MI, OH and Ontario, Canada. We have begun relating these data to degree-day accumulations for each locality to determine when moths were flying relative to cumulative heat units. We have also begun to associate the moth captures with soil types in the vicinty of the traps to determine if soil type influence moth activity; presumably finer soil may allow caterpillars to dig deeper to pupate and therefore have better overwintering survival.


      Progress 08/15/12 to 08/14/13

      Target Audience: Target audience is farmers and other agricultural professionals, extension personnel, and university- and government-based agricultural scientists. Changes/Problems: Nothing Reported What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided? Extension educators are now familiar with this pest species and are actively evaluating its threat to production. Technical staff is now understands the pest's biology and we have a better understanding of its distribution. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest? Results (i.e., moth captures) thus far have been publicized via university-based extension weekly newsletters. What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals? Continue to develop the programming to evaluate established model against our regional weather and moth flight activity for the past few years.

      What was accomplished under these goals? 1. Our team has established a regional monitoring network for the 2013 season 2. We have integrated trap-capture data for 2007-2012 into the PestWatch database, and are currently gathering degree day information for previous years to test flight activty models. We have also begun the programming to develop the smartphone application 3. Once we have accumulated all the appropriate weather data for years prior to 2012, we will be able to evaluate the relevance of midwestern models--this step in coming in the approaching months.