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Fall Armyworm Moth (Spodoptera frugiperda)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Fall Armyworm Moth

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Image Credit: Arch Baker
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Variations in color coupled with sexual dimorphism mean a handful of Fall Armyworm Moths can line up, and none of them are identical.

Updated: 01/03/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The male and female moth for this species look different from each other. The female is more gray than brown. The male is more brown than gray. Both have bean-shaped reniform spots on the lower part of the forewing. A short, pale line may be present above this spot, but it does not pass beyond the major vein on the outer edge. An elliptical or tight oval ring or spot is on the upper part of the forewing. It may be filled in with white, orange, or brown coloring. Besides the distinct spots and lines, females tend to be uniform in color, but males can have mottled white, brown, gray, and orange patches all over. This makes it difficult to recognize it unless one is familiar with this species' variations.

The Fall Armyworm, its caterpillar, is a notorious pest. It eats a variety of grasses and crop plants, which means it ruins turf and food production. Peanut, rice, soybean, sugarcane, alfalfa, cotton, and corn are some of the victims of the Fall Armyworm's feasting. Many generations can be produced in one year, so an area can be defoliated over the course of a season. There are many instars to this caterpillar and its appearance changes. One instar has an orange head, a black upper body with yellow lines and specks, and a yellow belly. Another is green with a black head. It can also appear brown with a lighter, yellow stripe on the 'back' that is dotted with dark spots, each growing a short black hair.

This caterpillar is active from late summer through the fall season in the north, but it is active year-round in the southern part of its range. Moths migrate north when the weather warms and help establish populations there. Look for clusters of white or pale yellow eggs covered with fuzz on the underside of leaves. Planting early in the season allows a crop to get harvested before the caterpillars are in force. Chemical and biological controls are commonly implemented to manage infestations when they occur.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Patterned insect icon
Striped or banded insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Noctuidae
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          Genus: Spodoptera
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            Species: frugiperda

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Spodoptera frugiperda
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 16mm to 19mm (0.62" to 0.74")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: brown; tan; black gray
Descriptors: oval spot; ring; bean-shaped; dash; line; flying; multicolored; sexually dimorphic; mottled

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 16mm (0.6in) and 19mm (0.7in)
Lo: 16mm
Md: 17.5mm
Hi: 19mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Fall Armyworm Moth may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Fall Armyworm Moth. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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