Agrotis ipsilon (Hufnagel, 1766)
Black Cutworm
(one synonym is Noctua idonea Cramer, 1780)
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

(Photo: courtesy of Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, France)

The scientific name of this species reflects the marking on the forewing of the adult moth which resembles the Greek character Ipsilon.

The Caterpillar is pale brown with a number of darker lines along the body. The caterpillar is worldwide pest, attacking leaves, stems, and roots of many agricultural crops, including :

  • Cauliflower ( Brassica botrytis, BRASSICACEAE ),
  • Soybeans ( Glycine max, FABACEAE ),
  • Cotton ( Gossypium hirsutum, MALVACEAE ),
  • Maize ( Zea mays, POACEAE ),
  • Strawberry ( Fragaria ananassa, ROSACEAE ),
  • Tomato ( Lycopersicum esculentum, SOLANACEAE ),
  • Grape Vine ( Vitis vinifera, VITACEAE ).

    The adult moth has brown forewings and a dumb-bell mark in the centre of each wing, like other species in the Agrotis genus, but specifically has a paler area around the tips of the forewings. The hind wings are buff, darkening to the margin, with dark veins. The moth has a wingspan of about 4 cms. The pheromones of this species have been identified.

    (Photo: courtesy of CSIRO/BIO Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph)

    One female adult moth can lay over 1,000 eggs. They are laid in clutches of a dozen or so on leaves of plants in damp areas. The eggs hatch in about 5 days.

    (Photo: courtesy of Graeme Cocks, Townsville, Queensland)

    The species has migratory habits. The species occurs world-wide, for example:

  • Brazil,
  • Finland,
  • France,
  • Hawaii,
  • Indonesia,
  • New Zealand,
  • Polynesia,
  • Swaziland,
  • United Kingdom,
  • United States of America,

    and the subspecies aneituma occurs in Australia in:

  • Western Australia,
  • Northern Territory,
  • Queensland,
  • Norfolk Island,
  • New South Wales,
  • Australian Capital Territory,
  • Victoria,
  • Tasmania, and
  • South Australia.

    although it is endemic only in the warmer half of the continent.

    (Picture: courtesy of CSIRO Entomology)

    Possible control measures, depending on the crop, include :

  • flooding the fields between crops,
  • ploughing the soil between the crop plants to destroy weed hosts
  • pre-planting herbicides to destroy weed hosts,
  • using insecticides,
  • using a Nucleopolyhedrovirus ( BACULOVIRIDAE ), and
  • the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis ( BACILLACEAE ),
  • the nematode Steinernema carpocapsae ( STEINERNEMATIDAE )
  • Tachinid flies such as the Mexican Cutworm Fly Archytas cirphis ( TACHINIDAE ),
  • Eulophid wasps such as Euplectrus plathypenae ( EULOPHIDAE ),
  • Ichneumonid wasps such as Hyposoter exiguae ( ICHNEUMONIDAE ),
  • Braconid wasps such as Chelonus texans ( BRACONIDAE ),
  • Vespid wasps such as Stelopolybia pallipes ( VESPIDAE ),
  • Carabid beetles such as Calosoma blaptoides ( CARABIDAE ), and
  • Staphylinid beetles such as Philonthus species ( STAPHYLINIDAE ).

    drawing by Pieter Cramer, listed as Bombyx idonea,

    Uitlandsche kapellen voorkomende in de drie waereld-deelen,
    Amsterdam Baalde, Volume 3 (1780), Plate CCLXXV, fig. H,
    image courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library, digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

    Further reading :

    David Carter,
    Butterflies and Moths, Collins Eyewitness Handbooks, Sydney 1992, p. 252.

    Ian F.B. Common,
    Moths of Australia, Melbourne University Press, 1990, fig. 50.4, pp. 55, 64, 467.

    Pieter Cramer,
    Uitlandsche kapellen voorkomende in de drie waereld-deelen,
    Amsterdam Baalde, Volume 3 (1780), p. 150, Fig. H, and also Plate 275, fig. H..

    Johann Siegfried Hufnagel,
    Forsetzung der Tabelle von den Nachtvögeln: IV,
    Berlinisches Magazin,
    Volume 3, Part 4 (1766), p. 416, No. 99.

    Peter Marriott & Marilyn Hewish,
    Moths of Victoria - Part 9,
    Cutworms and Allies - NOCTUOIDEA (C)
    Entomological Society of Victoria, 2020, pp. 30-31.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 15 April 2013, 15 March 2017, 25 December 2020)