NC State Extension Publications

Key to Pepper Pests

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More than 35 species of insects and mites are pests of pepper. However, of these only 12 species occur in North Carolina, and only 7 species may be considered of economic importance. These are the European corn borer, corn earworm, beet armyworm, fall armyworm, pepper maggot, green peach aphid, and the tobacco hornworm. Flea beetles, cutworms, plant bugs and the pepper weevil are minor pests of pepper in North Carolina.

Insects damage peppers by feeding on foliage or fruit or by spreading virus diseases. Obviously those feeding within the fruit are of most concern to the processor.

Three critical periods exist when insect damage is paramount. By mid-June, aphids have usually established colonies in pepper fields. By early July, populations of second generation European corn borers, corn earworms, and pepper maggots are growing. By early August, the most critical period, third generation European corn borers, armyworms and corn earworms have reached devastating levels unless a control program has been implemented.

A. Insects that feed externally on plants

  1. Caterpillars with three pairs of legs near head and five pairs of prolegs
    1. Beet armyworm – Green or black larva, up to 30 mm long; three lightly colored stripes running length of body; black spot on each side of body on second segment behind head (Figure 1); damages bud and young leaves
    2. Tobacco hornworm – Greenish caterpillar up to 90 mm long with red anal horn; body with fine white pubescence and 7 diagonal stripes on each side (Figure 2); strips leaves from vines; infrequently feeds on fruit, leaving large, open superficial scars (Figure VV)
  2. Beetles - hard-bodied insects with wing covers which meet in a straight line down the middle of the back
    1. Flea beetles – Various species of tiny, darkly colored beetles 2.5 to 4.5 mm long (Figure 3); have solid-colored body or dark body with pale yellow stripe on each wing cover; chew tiny round holes in foliage
    2. Pepper weevil – Reddish-brown to black snout beetle with brassy luster; body about 3 mm long; spur on inner side of each front leg (Figure 4); chew holes in foliage, buds, and tender pods
  3. Green peach aphid – Soft-bodied, pear-shaped, yellow to green insect up to 2.4 mm long with pair of dark cornicles and a cauda protruding from the abdomen (Figure 5); may be winged or wingless - wingless forms more common; winged adult with dark dorsal blotch on yellowish-green abdomen; cornicles over twice as long as cauda and slightly swollen toward tip; yellow-green nymph with three dark lines on abdomen; cause discoloration or mottling of the foliage; transmits virus diseases; excrete honeydew on which sooty mold grows
  4. Potato leafhopper – Spindle-shaped pest, up to 13 mm long; green body with yellowish to dark green spots (Figure 6); usually jumps instead of flies; extracts sap from underside of leaf causing leaf to crinkle, curl, and turn yellow
  5. Corn earworm – Early instars - cream colored or yellowish-green with few markings; later instars - green, reddish, or brown with pale longitudinal stripes and scattered black spots; moderately hairy; up to 44 mm long; 3 pairs of legs, 5 pairs of prolegs (Figure 7); leaves holes in peppers
  6. Fall armyworm – Green, brown, or black caterpillar with black stripe down each side and yellowish-gray stripe down back; body up to 40 mm long; 3 pairs of legs near head and 5 pairs of prolegs (Figure 8A); head capsule with pale, but distinct inverted Y (Figure 8B); rarely found in North Carolina before July; eats leaves and gouges fruit

B. Chewing insects that mine leaves or bore into fruit

  1. Corn earworm – Early instars - cream colored or yellowish-green with few markings; later instars - green, reddish, or brown with pale longitudinal stripes and scattered black spots; moderately hairy; up to 44 mm long; 3 pairs of legs, 5 pairs of prolegs (Figure 7); leaves holes in peppers
  2. Fall armyworm – Green, brown, or black caterpillar with black stripe down each side and yellowish-gray stripe down back; body up to 40 mm long; 3 pairs of legs near head and 5 pairs of prolegs (Figure 8A); head capsule with pale, but distinct inverted Y (Figure 8B); rarely found in North Carolina before July; eats leaves and gouges fruit
  3. Pepper maggot – White, translucent, legless maggot up to 12 mm long with a pointed head (Figure 9); feeds inside fruit; infested peppers have 0.4 x 0.3 mm egg punctures and turn red prematurely
  4. Pepper weevil larva – Grayish-white, cylindrical, slightly curved legless grub up to 6 mm long; pale brown head (Figure 10); feeds at seed core of pepper or tunnels in walls; inside of pepper is black and filled with frass

C. Insects that bore into or sever stems

  1. Cutworms – Several species of fat, basically gray, brown, or black caterpillars; 40 to 50 mm long when fully grown; 3 pairs of legs, 5 pairs of prolegs (Figure 11); occasionally feed above ground when young; older larvae burrow in soil during day, sever plant stems at night; curl up when disturbed
  2. European corn borer – Cream to light pink caterpillar with reddish-brown to black head; body up to 26 mm long with several rows of dark spots; 3 pairs of legs near head; 5 pairs of prolegs (Figure 12); bores into stems leaving tangled frass and silk near entrance hole; stems break or plants wilt readily; young larvae sometimes feed under the fruit cap and later bore into the fruit (Figure TT)
Figure 1. Beet armyworm.

Figure 1. Beet armyworm.

Figure 2. Tobacco hornworm.

Figure 2. Tobacco hornworm.

Figure 3. Flea beetle.

Figure 3. Flea beetle.

Figure 4. Pepper weevil.

Figure 4. Pepper weevil.

Figure 5. Green peach aphid. A. Winged adult. B. Wingless adult.

Figure 5. Green peach aphid. A. Winged adult. B. Wingless adult. C. Nymph.

Figure 6. Potato leafhopper.

Figure 6. Potato leafhopper.

Figure 7. Corn earworm.

Figure 7. Corn earworm.

Figure 8A. Fall armyworm.

Figure 8A. Fall armyworm.

Figure 8B. Fall armyworm head capsule with inverted Y.

Figure 8B. Fall armyworm head capsule with inverted Y.

Figure 9. Pepper maggot.

Figure 9. Pepper maggot.

Figure 10. Pepper weevil larva.

Figure 10. Pepper weevil larva.

Figure 11. Cutworm.

Figure 11. Cutworm.

Figure 12. European corn borer.

Figure 12. European corn borer.

Figure TT. European corn borer in pepper.

Figure TT. European corn borer in pepper.

Figure VV. Tobacco hornworm on pepper.

Figure VV. Tobacco hornworm on pepper.

Pepper Maggot

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Pepper maggot, Zonosemata electa (Say), Tephritidae, DIPTERA

DESCRIPTION

Adult – The adult pepper maggot is a yellow fly about 8 mm long. It has one pair of brown-banded, clear wings. A small black dot is located on each side of the last segment of the abdomen.

Egg – The white, crooknecked-shaped egg is roughly 2 mm long and about 0.3 mm wide.

Larva – White and translucent when newly hatched, the maggot has a pointed head and turns yellow as it develops. When fully grown, it is 10 to 12 mm long and about 3 mm in diameter at its widest point.

Pupa - The pupa is enclosed in a hard covering known as the puparium. This protective case is about 8 mm long and 4 mm wide.

BIOLOGY

Distribution – From New Jersey, this introduced pest has spread throughout the eastern half of the United States. It now occurs from Massachusetts south to Florida and westward to Indiana, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Host Plants – Pepper maggots feed within the fruiting structures of weeds such as horsenettle and ground cherry. Economically important hosts include hot cherry pepper, eggplant, and tomato fruit. Bell and sweet peppers are not subject to infestation.

Damage – The first sign of pepper maggot infestation is the appearance of egg punctures in small peppers 1 to 4 cm in diameter. These punctures are elliptical holes 0.4 by 0.3 millimeters. As infested peppers enlarge, the egg punctures become shallow depressions in the fruit. Maggots feed within the fruit but usually have emerged by the time the peppers are sold in the market. If peppers are picked when green, infested fruit cannot be distinguished from good fruit. Eventually however, maggot-damaged peppers will turn red prematurely and begin to rot. Such peppers are worthless for marketing. As they rot, peppers attract many kinds of flies, and maggots may develop in the decaying fruit. These maggots should not be confused with the pepper maggots which initiated the damage. The pepper maggots are no longer present.

Life History – Pepper maggots overwinter as pupae 5 to 10 cm below the soil surface. Flies emerge from late June through August and mate. Soon afterwards, females insert eggs just beneath the skin of young peppers. Eggs hatch about 10 days later depending on the growth rate of host peppers. At this time the peppers are usually 23 to fully grown. Larvae feed within the peppers for about 18 days. When fully grown, each larva cuts an exit hole, emerges, and drops to the soil to pupate. Only one generation occurs each year.

CONTROL

The use of insecticides is the only reliable method of pepper maggot control. A dust or spray should be applied to the foliage when flies appear and repeated as necessary. For chemical control recommendations, consult the current North Carolina Agricultural Chemical Manual.

Pepper maggot. A-C. Adult. D. Egg. E. Maggot. F. Puparium.

Pepper maggot. A-C. Adult. D. Egg. E. Maggot. F. Puparium.

Pepper Weevil

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Pepper weevil, Anthonomus eugenii cano, curculionidae, coleoptera

DESCRIPTION

Adult – About 3 mm long, this reddish-brown to black snout beetle has a long curved beak. The body is covered with yellowish and gray scale-like hairs which give the beetle a brassy luster. A spur is located on the inner side of each front leg.

Egg – The oblong-oval egg is about 0.8 mm long. It is white when first deposited but gradually turns yellow.

Larva – When newly hatched, the legless larva is white and about 1 mm long. As it develops, the grub becomes grayish-white with a pale brown head and darker mouthparts. When fully grown, the cylindrical, somewhat curved larva is about 6 mm long.

Pupa – White when newly formed, the 3- to 4-mm-long pupa darkens as it matures. It has short bristles on the back of its head, prothorax, and abdomen.

BIOLOGY

Distribution – From Mexico, the pepper weevil has spread into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Florida, and Georgia. Infestations in the Carolinas and Georgia usually result when weevils are inadvertently transported on plants with small fruits or picking sacks from areas such as Florida. This pest is occasionally found farther north.

Host Plants – Pepper weevils and their grubs can develop on black nightshade, eggplant, and bell, sweet, pimento, tabasco, and chili peppers. Though weevils will feed on the foliage of several other weeds and crop plants, they do not lay eggs or develop on any of these other hosts.

Damage – The weevils feed externally on foliage, blossom buds, and tender pods. However, they do not cause as much damage as larvae which feed within buds and pods. Infested buds and blossoms fall from plants. The larvae usually feed at the seed core, but occasionally tunnel in the walls of pods. Infested peppers are black inside and filled with frass. Infestations usually are not noticed until the stems of young peppers yellow, wither, and cause the fruit to drop. By the time a few fallen pods are noticed, serious damage has occurred already and many more pods can be expected to fall in the following 10 days. Some infested pods turn red or yellow prematurely and may become malformed before dropping to the ground.

Life History – Pepper weevils spend the winter on live pepper or nightshade plants in warm areas of southern California, Texas, and Florida. They spread from their overwintering sites each spring by flying or hitchhiking on pepper plants, picking sacks, or fruit on its way to market. The specifics of their life history have not been studied in North Carolina so the following information is based on the weevil's biology in Florida.

Pepper weevils complete one or two generations on black nightshade weeds in early spring. They migrate to pepper as soon as plants become available. By June, weevils usually are feeding and laying eggs. Females make holes in buds and fruit, place eggs within them, and seal the holes with brownish fluid. Each female deposits about 200 eggs over a 30-day period. Depending on the temperature, eggs incubate in 3 to 5 days.

Larvae bore into pepper pods and feed for about 8 to 10 days. At this time, full-grown larvae create cells made of frass within peppers and pupate. Four to 6 days later, a new generation of beetles emerges. This 2- to 3-week life cycle is typical in summer. In cool weather, however, 5 to 6 weeks may pass from the egg to the adult stage. In Florida, 5 to 8 generations are produced each year.

CONTROL

The chance of an infestation can be reduced by not buying pepper plants grown in areas where the pepper weevil is a problem. A number of cultural practices help control weevil populations in areas where this pest is common and lives year round; however, such measures are of no benefit in North Carolina since the weevil cannot overwinter here. For up-to-date chemical recommendations, consult the current North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual.

Pepper weevil. A. Adult. B. Larva. C. Pupa.

Pepper weevil. A. Adult. B. Larva. C. Pupa.

Figure UU. Pepper weevil.

Figure UU. Pepper weevil.

Authors

Extension Specialist (Fruits & Vegetables)
Entomology & Plant Pathology
Professor Emeritus
Entomology & Plant Pathology
Retired Extension Specialist (Identification & Diagnosis)
Entomology & Plant Pathology

Publication date: Feb. 10, 2003
AG-295

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