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If you grow sugarcane in Latin America, you will most likely come across larvae of a moth called Diatraea saccharalis, commonly known as the sugarcane borer. Despite its name, this pest harms more than just sugarcane crops, it is also related to yield loss in rice, corn, wheat, and other cereal grasses.

The first step to eradicate the Sugarcane Borer from your farm, is to know what to look for. In order to do that, it is essential to know the physical traits of this insect and its signs on the crop.



A fully developed caterpillar (around 40 days) measures 23 millimeters and has a light yellowish body with a brown head. Although the larvae stage is when the pest damages the crop, it is important to know what an adult moth looks like – 25 millimeters with straw-like coloring.

Sugarcane borer larva. Photo by J. Saichuk                     Sugarcane borer moth. Photo by T. Riley


The young caterpillar feeds off sugarcane leaves, and as it grows, it starts feeding off the leaf sheaths until it can penetrate the stalk. The most common signs of damage are holes and tunnels in the stem, made by the larvae while it is feeding. Through those openings, there is an increased chance of fungus entrance, causing what is known as sugarcane red rot, which significantly decreases the quality and value of the product.

Crops still in their early stages have not developed their stalks, therefore, the signs might be seen in the leaves’ petiole in the form of lesions and dry areas, especially of the central leaf, called “deadheart”.

Sugarcane red rot. Photo by Manual de Identificação de Pragas da Cana

To make sure the signs are from the borer and not a nutrient deficiency, try our SMART Fertilizer Software; we will help you create the perfect fertilization plan for your crop, and ensure that your crop will have the ideal amount of nutrients in every growth stage! Check out our software here!


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Once the appearance of the larvae and moth has been established, we can start to look for them in the field. The early reproductive stage is the ideal time to start searching. Larvae might be seen inside leaf sheaths, which is where it stays before drilling into the stem. Finding forms of the insect, caterpillars, egg masses or even adults is the best chance for control, since when the signs of infestation are visible, it means the pest is already well established in the crop, hindering the efficiency of pesticides.



There are several methods to control the borer and prevent damage. You can start by prioritizing the use of resistant types of sugarcane, getting rid of plants in the area that might serve as hosts, such as corn and sorghum, and also quickly milling the stalk after harvest and destroying any crop residues on the field.

Studies have shown that another very powerful way to eliminate this pest, are two wasps that can be used for biological control, Trichogramma galloi and Cotesia flavipes. The first, acts as a parasite of the eggs, while the second, kills the Diatraea saccharalis’ caterpillar by laying eggs inside it. If the two parasitoid wasps are combined, the infestation can be reduced up to 60%.

For chemical control, there are numerous different pesticides that might be used. The important thing is to apply them at the same time the larvae emerge, ensuring they will be killed before entering the stem and causing damage.

And remember, healthy and well-nourished plants have greater resistance to pests and diseases, and in case of infestation, productivity will be less affected. With SMART Fertilizer Software, you can get an instant assessment of the nutritional status of your crop and detect any deficiencies in a few clicks!


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