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Plantwise Technical Factsheet

pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella)

Host plants / species affected
Abelmoschus esculentus (okra)
Abutilon (Indian mallow)
Abutilon indicum (country mallow)
Althaea (hollyhocks)
Gossypium (cotton)
Gossypium arboreum (cotton, tree)
Gossypium herbaceum (short staple cotton)
Hibiscus (rosemallows)
Hibiscus cannabinus (kenaf)
Hibiscus sabdariffa (Roselle)
Medicago sativa (lucerne)
List of symptoms/signs
Fruit  -  internal feeding
Fruit  -  lesions: black or brown
Fruit  -  premature drop
Inflorescence  -  external feeding
Pink bollworm causes failure of buds to open, fruit shedding, lint damage and seed loss.
Prevention and control


An account summarising the control methods most effective against P. gossypiella has been written by Graham (1980). A review of control in south-western USA was given by Hutchison (1999).

Biological Control

P. gossypiella has been a target for biological control, particularly in the USA. Parasitoids were introduced there from India, from the Indonesia-northern Australia region and from several other countries, but only Bracon kirkpatricki became established (Greathead, 1989). Biological control agents were first obtained from India, in the belief that it was the origin of the pest. When these failed later introductions were from Indonesia-Australia as opinion shifted in favour of an origin in this region. However, the matter is not settled and Ingram (1994) suggested that it may have come from the Indo-Pakistan area because of the number of species recorded by Cheema et al. (1980) (Greathead, 1989). More recently nematodes have been used as control agents in the USA (Henneberry et al., 1996; Gouge et al., 1999).

Integrated Pest Management

Combinations of biological and chemical controls have also proved successful. Tuhan et al. (1987) found that application of Trichogramma brasiliense in combination with chemical insecticides gave good control of pink bollworm in India, and Bacillus thuringiensis has been found to be effective in combination with chemical insecticides in Egypt (Hussein et al., 1990).

The Pectinophora gossypiella IPM project in California, USA, was reviewed by Walters et al. (1998). The project used the release of sterile insects, cultural controls, intensive monitoring with pheromone baited traps for adult males and boll sampling, pheromone applications for mating disruption, very limited use of pesticides and the widespread use of genetically engineered cotton.

In Pakistan, Ahmad et al. (2001) found a combination of Biological control and mating disruption techniques to be effective.

Chemical Control

Insecticidal control is hindered by the larvae being internal feeders; moreover, resistance to insecticides develops making it often more expensive than other methods. Nonetheless, there is an extensive literature on chemical control, especially from India. The efficacy of asymethrin has been tested in India by Dhawan et al. (1992), that of chlorpyriphos in India by Dhawan et al. (1989), of synthetic pyrethroids by Dhawan et al. (1990) and Butter et al. (1990),  of chloropyrifos and teflubenzuron by Green and Lyon (1989), of pyrethroids and organic insecticides with high contact toxicity (carbaryl) in China by Gao et al. (1992), of cyhalothrin and fluvalinate in India by Thangaraju et al. (1993) and of fenvalerate by Tadas et al. (1994). Application methods were assessed in Brazil by Ramalho and Jesus (1989). A strain in Arizona has been found to be resistant to permethrin (Osman et al., 1992).

Cultural Control

Late planting of crops has been used as a cultural control method where the end of diapause is triggered by day length. Larvae that emerge before the crop is ready then have no food supply (Frisbie et al., 1989). Methods have also been developed for reducing the number of overwintering larvae, including the chemical defoliation of crops and desiccation of the crop at the end of the season; removing immature late season bolls; and the use of short-season varieties. Beasley and Adams (1995) suggest eight cultural control methods following a study of pink bollworm in the USA. In essence, they recommend the use of short-season cultivars appropriate to the seasonal climate of the area, not forcing regrowth and a second flowering cycle, rotating crops and specific recommendations for harvesting and dealing with crop debris. Other cultural control methods, including land preparation, irrigation, sowing date, weed control, fertilization, crop rotation, use of trap crops and resistant varieties, are discussed by El-Amin and Ahmed (1991). Novo and Gabriel (1994) reported that gin trash is a carrier of pests and that cotton seed mills with adequate fans for the expellation of gin trash had fewer cotton pests than mills without this equipment. A 3-year break from cotton production has also been used successfully in areas not highly susceptible to constant re-infestation from other areas (USDA, 1948). Much recent research has centred on the use of genetically manipulated cotton which enables pest larvae to become infected with the Bacillus thuringiensis toxin (Perlak et al., 2001).

All transgenic varieties of cotton gave a better yield than conventional strains in China (Lin, 2000) and Mexico (Godoy-Avila et al., 2000). A problem related to this is the resistance developed by the larvae. A strategy for overcoming this is the use of refuges in which nontransgenic plants are planted nearby (Tabashnik et al., 1999), or else a strategy of interplanting one nontransgenic row in five is used (Simmons et al., 1998).

Some research has also been conducted into resistant cotton varieties (Wu, 1993; Wang et al., 1993).

Pheromonal Control

Synthetic pheromones have been employed extensively in the detection and control of P. gossypiella. Different pheromone traps were compared by Tamankhar et al. (2001). Trapping with the synthetic pheromone gossyplure has been widely used and is reported to have resulted in a 60-80% reduction of the pest population in China (Gao et al., 1992). Pheromone trapping has also been used in India for an attempted eradication programme (Simwat et al., 1988). The pheromone has been found to enhance the efficacy of insecticides in India (Dhawan and Simwat, 1993). Busoli (1993) reported that the use of the sex pheromones gossyplure and virelure were more economically viable than the use of conventional insecticides. Early-season use of pheromone coupled with insecticides applied at low thresholds is generally most profitable, especially at low pink bollworm population densities (Frisbie et al., 1989). In Peru the pheromone has been included in an integrated pest management programme (Mabbett, 1991) and in India and Ivory Coast for trapping in an attempted eradication programme (Simwat et al. (1988) and Vaissaryre (1987), respectively). However, gossyplure is not effective in all cases: Mabbett (1991) reports that in Pakistan a different pest complex on cotton, including Earias spp., requires higher levels of pesticides early in the season which negates the usefulness of the pheromone. Moreover, early trials using gossyplure to saturate the cotton environment with pheromone in an attempt to disrupt the location of females by males proved inconclusive (Frisbie et al., 1989). In Egypt, Boguslawski and Basedow (2001) found that mating disruption gave more effective control than insecticides.

Sterile Male Release

A comprehensive sterile male release programme was conducted in Florida, USA, and, despite the controversy surrounding this method, infestations there have since remained at low levels (Frisbie et al., 1989). Radiation-induced F1 sterility has also been investigated as a possible means of control (Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, 1993).

P. gossypiella is a worldwide pest of cotton and in some regions of the world, it is the key cotton pest. Oerke et al. (1994; modified from Frisbie, 1983) classify it as a key pest in North and South America and Asia, and an economically important pest in Africa, Europe and the former USSR, and Oceania.

Based on trials from 1945 to 1980, Schwartz (1983) calculated that the potential loss, without control, was 61% due to P. gossypiella in the USA. Estimated losses of 9% were suggested where the pest was controlled. For 1987, King et al. (1988) estimated that the area affected by P. gossypiella was 237,330 ha of which 131,949 ha were treated. The cost of treatment was $22/ha. The estimated crop loss was 0.13% or 4150 t. Green and Lyon (1989) said that P. gossypiella infested over 200,000 ha in the western USA. Frisbie et al. (1989) indicated that economically damaging thresholds were reached if boll infestation rose above 5-15%.

Agarwal and Katiyar (1979) calculated the crop loss due to P. gossypiella based on field trials in Delhi. According to their data, the crop loss in the 1970s was 20.2% or 234,000 t of cotton.

In the Yangtze valley, China, Cai et al. (1985) reported that P. gossypiella reduced cotton yield by ca 10%. In the Wuhan region, it reduced fibre yield by 17-26% (Luo et al., 1986). Yuan and Lu (1986) estimated specific losses due to P. gossypiella of 0.0467 g/larvae due to direct injury and 0.0544 g of cotton due to indirect damage in the Shanghai region.

In Sudan, Darling (1951) estimated that 10.7% of the potential cotton yield could be lost following infestation by P. gossypiella.

In Egypt, in 1985, trial plots in the Nile Delta used a pheromone to control P. gossypiella. Losses of 2.2% were recorded, compared with 4.5% following insecticide treatments. The cotton yield from pheromone-protected crops was 3450 kg/ha while that from insecticide treated crops was 3100 kg/ha. Insect pests other than P. gossypiella were also controlled by these treatments (McVeigh et al., 1983; El-Adl et al., 1988).

Related treatment support
Plantwise Factsheets for Farmers
Rawlins, T. D.; CABI, 2012, English language
Pest Management Decision Guides
Malik, A. H.; Khan, Y. S.; CABI, 2013, English language
Robert, R. A.; Gayi, D.; CABI, 2014, English language
Rawlins, T.; CABI, 2014, English language
Malik, A. H.; Khan, Y. S.; CABI, 2013, Urdu language
External factsheets
USDA-NAL National Invasive Species Information Center Species Profiles, USDA-NAL National Invasive Species Information Center (NISIC), 2012, English language
Bayer CropScience Crop Compendium, Bayer CropScience, English language
University of California IPM Pest Management Guidelines, University of California, 2008, English language
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