In evaluating the insect pests of corn in Alabama, one that has been numerous in recent years and might be numerous again this year is the sugarcane beetle, says Kathy Flanders, Auburn University Extension entomologist.

“Sugarcane beetles are attracted to light, so you’d think that they’d be out there and you could find them,” said Flanders at the recent Central Alabama Corn Production Meeting in Autaugaville.

“But they don’t really like sunlight, so you have only a short amount of time to catch them on top of the soil.”

Seed treatments and more traditional at-planting insecticides like Lorsban and Counter have proven effective, she says. “In Mississippi, they’re finding that a half-rate of those products plus a seed treatment can give you the protection you need from this pest.”

The beetles are about one half-inch to five eighths-inch long, says Flanders.

“They love to feed at the bottom of the corn plant, right where the growing point is when the plant is young. So they’re coming out just when the plant is coming in, and they love to get in and feed. They feed from the outside, gouging large holes through the side of the base of the corn.”

Since they’re feeding directly below the soil surface, it makes them difficult to get at, she says.

“The net result is that when the plant begins to grow out, you get these dead heart symptoms. So when the corn tries to re-grow, the plants won’t amount to anything. If you get a lot of damage from these, the only solution may be to plow it all up and start over.”

Some growers, says Flanders, are more susceptible to sugarcane beetle than others. “The No. 1 thing is if you try and plant corn into pasture or hay fields, directly into the grass sod. They like to hang out in that grass sod. The next one will be corn with a lot of pasture around it. And sometimes, fields just seem to get sugarcane beetle, depending on the environment around the field.”

Reduced-tillage fields also have shown more susceptibility to sugarcane beetles.