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Citrus Pests


Cotton cutworm


Scientific name


Spodoptera litura (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae)

Other common names


tobacco cutworm, oriental leafworm moth, cluster caterpillar, tropical armyworm

Similar species


beet armyworm, Spodoptera exigua

Egyptian cotton leafworm, Spodoptera littoralis

southern armyworm, Spodoptera eridania

For definitive identification, it is necessary to dissect adult male internal parts.



United States: Frequently intercepted by agricultural agents in U.S. ports but only reported from Florida and Hawaii. Currently being eradicated in Florida.

Worldwide: Asia, specifically Cambodia, China, Japan, India, Pacific Islands, and Guam. Also found in the northern two-thirds of Australia.

Native to Asia.

Diagnostic characteristics

  • 15 - 20 mm (0.59 - 0.79 inches) in length.
  • 30 - 38mm (1.18 - 1.5 inches) wingspan.
  • Brown wings with cream streaks crisscrossing on the forewing.
  • Hindwings are silvery white.
  • Six larval instars.
  • Young instars are green with a dark underside.
  • 3rd instar develops red and yellow strips the length of the caterpillar.
  • 4th and 5th instar caterpillars become green with thin yellow lines and black triangle-shaped spots.
  • Last instar turns a dark brownish-red color with 4 yellow triangles on the mesothorax.
  • Egg masses 4 - 7 mm (0.16 - 0.27 in) in diameter made up of 200 - 300 eggs.
  • Cream to golden brown.
  • Covered by light brown abdomen hairs from the female.


Citrus hosts:

All Citrus species and their hybrids.

Non-citrus hosts:

Broad host range, known from over 100 host plants that include weeds as well as vegetable, field, and flower crops. A partial list includes:

  • all cruciferous vegetables, Brassica oleracea
  • Acacia spp.
  • African oil palm, Elaeis guineensis
  • alfalfa, Medicago sativa
  • amaranth, Amaranthus spp.
  • banana, Musa spp.
  • bean, Phaseolus vulgaris
  • corn, Zea mays
  • cotton, Gossypium hirsutum
  • eggplant, Solanum melongena
  • Fuchsia spp.
  • Geranium spp.
  • Lantana spp.
  • lettuce, Lactuca sativa
  • mango, Mangifera indica
  • peanut, Arachis hypogaea
  • sorghum, Sorghum spp.
  • strawberry, Fragaria spp.
  • sugarcane, Saccharum spp.
  • tomato, Solanum lycopersicum

Host damage


Sometimes eaten by mature larvae.


Sometimes eaten by mature larvae.


Young larvae will skeletonize the leaves (only the veins remain). Mature larvae will eat the whole leaf.



Adults are nocturnal and live 8 - 10 days. During her lifetime, a female can produce over 1000 eggs. Eggs are laid in masses and covered by scales on the underside of leaves. Larvae feed at night from the underside of the leaf and curl into a spiral when disturbed. Larvae progress through six instars before dropping from the plant to pupate underground in an earthen cell. Average life cycle is 25 - 31 days.



Based on host plant and climate preference of the moth, it could live in 48% of the continental United States.



Espinosa, A. and A.C. Hodges. 2009. Spodoptera litura Bugwood Wiki fact sheet. (

(NAPIS) National Agricultural Pest Information System. Purdue University. 2012. Survey status of cotton cutworm - Spodoptera litura (all years). (

Schreiner, I. 2000. Cluster caterpillars (Fabricious).(

Zhongshi, Z., C. Zepeng, and Z. Xu. 2010. Relations between air temperatures and mating behaviour of Spodoptera litura adults in nighttime in the tobacco field. Afr. J Ag. Res. 5(21): 2994-2996. (



Weeks, J.A., A.C. Hodges, and N.C. Leppla


Citrus Pests
Content last updated June, 2012