Date of this Version
A potential pest of switchgrass, Panicum virgatum L., was first detected in South Dakota in 2004, where death of partially emerged leaves was noted in a small proportion of tillers. Similar “dead heart” symptoms were observed in switchgrass in Illinois during 2008 and adults of a stem-boring caterpillar were collected and identified as Blastobasis repartella (Dietz). In 2009, a survey of the central United States was used to estimate the distribution and abundance of this insect. In eight northern states, B. repartella was consistently found in both cultivated plots and natural stands of switchgrass. In four southern states, B. repartella was not detected. However, because symptoms are conspicuous for a short period of time, failure to collect stem-borers on one survey date for each southern location does not necessarily define the limit of distribution for B. repartella. Sampling in four northern states showed the proportion of tillers damaged by B. repartella ranged from 1.0–7.2%. Unlike some caterpillars that feed on native grasses, it appears that the egg-laying behavior of adult moths may preclude the use of prescribed burns as an effective method to suppress this stem-boring caterpillar. As a potential pest of switchgrass planted for biomass production, near-term research needs include refining the geographic distribution of B. repartella, quantifying potential losses of switchgrass biomass, and determining whether switchgrass may be bred for resistance this and other stemboring insects.