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Plantwise Technical Factsheet

sugarcane thrips (Fulmekiola serrata)

Host plants / species affected
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco)
Saccharum officinarum (sugarcane)
List of symptoms/signs
Growing point  -  external feeding
Leaves  -  abnormal colours
Leaves  -  abnormal forms
Leaves  -  external feeding
Leaves  -  necrotic areas
The sugarcane thrips lacerates the leaf tissues of sugarcane with its sucking mouthparts and imbibes the plant sap, usually from the top section of the young leaf (Chatterjee and Roy, 1982). The damaged central leaf roll shows yellowish-white blotches when it unfurls. Afterwards, the blotches turn light or dark yellow and become irregular patches or stripes, which may cover most of a seriously damaged leaf. These patches and stripes turn brown or brownish-red and eventually the leaf turns greyish-white and dies. The damaged top section of the leaf becomes yellowish-brown or purplish-red and curls inwards longitudinally. The curled leaf and the rolled central leaf may twist together (Wang, 1952; Liu, 1983). In cases of severe infestation, the upper half of the leaf turns dark red. The damaged leaf become distorted and dies and the plant becomes stunted (Wang, 1952; Chatterjee and Roy, 1982).

The effects of damage are mainly expressed on young canes; F. serrata may cause growth retardation and unhealthiness during drier periods.
Prevention and control

Host-Plant Resistance

The population density of sugarcane thrips and the degree of damage to the plant are closely related to the cane variety. In general, those varieties which grow slowly in the early stage, unfurl the central leaf rolls late and have tender, green leaves are more likely to be seriously damaged. When the population density of F. serrata reaches a certain level, the degree of damage to sugarcane depends more on the cane variety than the density of the F. serrata population (Cai et al., 1992).

Cultural Control

Cultural control is a fundamental measure for controlling sugarcane thrips and discouraging infestations.

Spring planting should take place as early in the season as possible. Cane varieties with a fast-growing seedling stage and a central leaf roll which unfurls early (providing no hiding place for F. serrata) should be selected.

In Taiwan, damage done by sugarcane thrips is concentrated in May, June and July. Experiments were carried out in which sugarcane was planted each month from July to February. Damage by F. serrata was examined in June. It was found that sugarcane planted in October was damaged most seriously, while sugarcane planted earlier or later was less damaged (Wang, 1952). In Sichuan, China, perennial cane is usually most damaged, spring cane is less damaged and autumn cane is least damaged (Cai et al., 1992).

Careful cultivation management should be practised to accelerate growth of the seedlings. Deep ploughing together with the application of ground fertilizer and the application of a top-dressing of quick-release fertilizer during a dry spell may encourage strong growth in sugarcane and thus reduce damage by F. serrata.

When sugarcane grows well in the seedling stage and the central leaf unrolls early, damage by F. serrata is less severe. Investigation in Sichuan, China showed that the percentage of rolled leaves of sugarcane cultivated well in the early stage was 20%, while that of sugarcane cultivated poorly in the early stage was 56% (Cai et al., 1992).

Experiments in Taiwan indicated that when more fertilizer was applied, sugarcane growth was better and damage by F. serrata was less severe (Wang, 1952). Therefore, the damage caused by sugarcane thrips may be reduced by the use of fertilizers.

Sugarcane should be irrigated early and in dry weather, but the accumulation of water in the cane field should be avoided. In sloping fields, there is less water so sugarcane growth is slow and the unrolling of the central leaf is late. Consequently, the damage done by sugarcane thrips is more serious. In flat land, damage is less serious (Cai et al., 1992).

In soil that does not retain water and fertilizer, sugarcane growth is slow and damage by F. serrata is serious. The percentage of rolled leaves of sugarcane on clay is twice that found on loam (Cai et al., 1992).

Intercropping with crops from the Poaceae (such as maize) provides place of transfer and abundant food for F. serrata. Thus damage to sugarcane increases by about 15% (Cai et al., 1992).

Biological Control

In Guangdong, China, integrated control of sugarcane insect pests was practised in the 1980s. Sugarcane thrips and other pests were suppressed by numerous natural enemies (spiders, rovebeetles, earwigs and ants) preserved in the fields through the reduced, judicious use of insecticides and cultural control measures (Liu et al., 1985).

Chemical Control

Due to the variable regulations around (de-)registration of pesticides, we are for the moment not including any specific chemical control recommendations. For further information, we recommend you visit the following resources:

In Taiwan, F. serrata occurs in all cane fields along the coast. In the early 1950s, about 20 000 ha of sugarcane were seriously damaged each year by F. serrata from April to July (Wang, 1952). The sugarcane thrips causes yellow blotches on leaves which obstruct sugarcane growth by reducing the photosynthesis of the plant. However, the importance of F. serrata in Taiwan has decreased following the decline of the sugar industry since 1960 (Chang, 1991; Chang, 1995).

In south China, F. serrata is a major pest of sugarcane at the seedling and elongation stages. In Guangdong, F. serrata occurs widely in all cane fields and sometimes causes severe damage (Liu, 1983).

In Sichuan, China, several species of thrips are found in cane fields, resulting in a reduction of yield of 10-15%. Among them, F. serrata is the major pest attacking sugarcane. Because of its small size and the way its damage is concealed within the central leaf roll, the loss of yield it causes has not been taken seriously in the past (Cai et al., 1992). In Ruian, Zhejiang, China, F. serrata is one of the three main pests of sugarcane (Fan, 1993).

In Amami Oshima Island, Japan, collections from three locations during May-November showed that Stenchaetothrips minutus and F. serrata were the most abundant thrips on sugarcane despite different planting patterns. Combining the numbers caught for these two species accounted for 99.1% of all thrips collected (Setokuchi and Niyazaki, 1989).

In China, amur silvergrass (Miscanthus sacchariflorus) is one of the most important materials for making paper. In Hunan, China, in recent years, F. serrata has been found to be one of the major pests of M. sacchariflorus.
Related treatment support
External factsheets
Cornell University Vegetable MD Online, Cornell University Plant Pathology Department, 1989, English language
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