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The term cutworm is used for the larvae of many species of moth. Most cutworms are in the moth family Noctuidae, however, many noctuid larvae are not cutworms. Cutworms are notorious agricultural and garden pests. They are voracious leaf, bud, and stem feeders and can destroy entire plants. They get their name from their habit of "cutting" off a seedling at ground level by chewing through the stem. Some species are subterranean and eat roots. Cutworms are usually green, brown, or yellow soft-bodied caterpillars, often with longitudinal stripes, up to 2.5 cm (1 inch) in length. There are many variations across the genera.

Pest Control

While there are pesticides which can control these insects, the non-industrial gardener can protect threatened plants (most often tomato, pepper, pea, or bean) by simply impeding the ground-hiding cutworm caterpillar from climbing the plant; they hide in the soil near the plants and climb them at night.

To prevent this, one can:

  • Place a "cutworm ring" around the plant. It can be a can with both ends cut off, or anything similar, even a ring made of cardboard. It should be at least four inches high above the soil and go one inch below the surface. Some even use five gallon buckets with the bottom cut out, planting the seedling and bucket at the same time.

  • Wrap the stem of the plant in aluminium foil, wax paper, coloured paper, cardboard, or plastic.

  • Reputedly as reliable as anything: simply brace both sides of the stem with popsicle sticks, toothpicks, or even sticks from the yard. If they run smoothly up the side of the plant several inches, this apparently stops the cutworm from "wrapping itself around" the plant, necessary for its evolved method of cutting it off. In fact, cutworms do not chew through stems by "wrapping" themselves, so the efficacy of this method is highly doubtful.

Species include

  • Black army cutworm (Actebia fennica)
  • Bogong moth (Agrotis infusa)
  • Black cutworm (Agrotis ipsilon)
  • Heart and Dart (Agrotis exclamationis)
  • Heart and Club (Agrotis clavis)
  • Turnip moth (Agrotis segetum)
  • Pale western cutworm (Agrotis orthogonia)
  • Claybacked cutworm (Agrotis gladiaria)
  • Red-backed cutworm (Euxoa ochrogaster)
  • Army cutworm (Euxoa auxiliaris)
  • Sandhill cutworm (Euxoa scandens)
  • Granulate cutworm (Feltia subterranea)
  • Dingy cutworm (Feltia jaculifera)
  • Beet armyworm (Spodoptera exigua)
  • Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda)
  • Large yellow underwing (Noctua pronuba)
  • Spotted cutworm (Amathes c-nigrum)
  • Brassy cutworm (Orthodes rufula)
  • Citrus cutworm (Xylomyges curialis)
  • Western bean cutworm (Richia albicosta)
  • Variegated cutworm (Peridroma saucia)


  1. Ball, Jeff. Rodale's Garden Problem Solver St. Martin's Press: 1988.

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