African Armyworm

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The African armyworm, Spodoptera exempta (Walker) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae), is the larva or caterpillar of a night-flying moth which causes considerable damage to cereal crops, namely maize, millet, sorghum, rice, wheat, teff and barley as well as to sugarcane seedlings and pasture grasses. Cereal crops are important staple food crops in Eastern Africa and any loss caused to these staple crops is a serious threat to food security and economic well-being, particularly to resource-poor farmers.

A heavy infestation of armyworm caterpillars appears to march across pastureland or freshly sprouting cereal seedlings devouring everything in its path, and gives the pest its name. Armyworm have been known to subsistence farmers in Africa probably for as long as cultivation has occurred, with the result that it has its own name in local languages: viwavi jeshi, ng’urrto, keenyu, ngonga, kungu, mbilizi, omor, n’kungu la (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda), temch, geiry, barnosay (Ethiopia, Eritrea), dirta afrikaanka (Somalia), and el-dudah, el-zahfa, el-afrigia (Sudan).

Crop Damage by African Armyworm
African armyworm Life Cycle

African armyworm Life Cycle

The life cycle of the armyworm is similar to that of other moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera). The whole life cycle takes about one month under normal outbreak conditions, but this period may vary depending on temperature, humidity, larval density, type and quality of food, sex and the effects of parasitism.

Primary Outbreak and Suspected Areas

The first armyworm outbreak of the season in eastern Africa usually starts in Tanzania in November/December and then the moths move with the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone(ITCZ) towards the north, first to Kenya and then to Ethiopia, Eritrea and even cross the Red Sea to Yemen. The moths also move southwards to Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa. Monitoring the movement of armyworm moths is important to predict the areas where outbreaks can occur.

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