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Alfalfa Weevils Are Active, and It’s Time to Scout

Originally Submitted: May 13, 2021

For the last few weeks, estimations of alfalfa weevil activity based on degree days were indicating that alfalfa weevils shouldn’t be active within fields. However, we received our first activity reports this week. Scouting and managing alfalfa weevils when they reach the determined thresholds can prevent yield loss and encourage healthy regrowth of the infested stand. Alfalfa weevil adults and larvae both feed on the alfalfa plant. However, the larvae cause the greatest damage by feeding on the terminal buds of the plant, which can greatly impact alfalfa growth.

Alfalfa Weevil Identification

Two photos of alfalfa weevils during different lifecycle stages. The left "A," is the larva stage and has a longate, green larvae that looks like a caterpillar with white stripe running down the body and brown head. The right, "B," is the adult stage and pictures a brown beetle with long snout.
Figure 1. (A) Alfalfa weevil larvae. (B) Alfalfa weevil adult. Courtesy: Adam Varenhorst

The larvae of the alfalfa weevil are small, green and resemble caterpillars. They have a white stripe on their backs and a dark brown/black head capsule (Figure 1-A). The larvae will have three pairs of legs near their head. The adults are small, brown beetles with a darker brown stripe that runs down their midline. Alfalfa weevil adults also have an elongated snout that is characteristic of the weevil family (Figure 1-B).

Scouting

The best way to determine if alfalfa weevils are present in a field is to use a sweep net and a five-gallon bucket. If you confirm alfalfa weevils are present in a field, the next step is to determine their population density. To do this, we recommend walking in a “Z” pattern and randomly sampling a total of 30 plants (i.e., sample approximately 10 plants per leg of the “Z”). Each plant that is selected needs to be pulled out gently and then hit against the inside of the five-gallon bucket to dislodge any larvae that are present. We recommend this method versus trying to count the beetles and larvae on the intact plant, because adult alfalfa weevils will fall off the plant when disturbed as a defense mechanism.

Once completed, the plant should be measured to determine height and the number of larvae in the bucket should be counted. Repeat this process until a total of 30 plants have been sampled. Lastly, calculate the average number of larvae and the height of the plants. Tables 1–4 contain threshold information for alfalfa weevils based on plant height and the number of larvae present.

Economic Thresholds

Table 1. Alfalfa 0 to 12 inches tall. Economic thresholds for alfalfa weevils
based on larvae per stem and calculated from the total larvae in a 30-stem sample.

 
Insecticide application cost per acre
 
$8
$12
$16
$20
Value of hay per ton
Total alfalfa weevil per 30 stems
$60
84
127
169
211
$80
63
95
127
158
$100
51
76
101
127
$120
42
63
84
105
$140
36
54
72
90
$160
32
47
63
79
$180
28
42
56
70
$200
25
38
51
63
$220
23
35
46
58

Table 2. Alfalfa 12 to 18 inches tall. Economic thresholds for alfalfa weevils
based on larvae per stem and calculated from the total larvae in a 30-stem sample.

 
Insecticide application cost per acre
 
$8
$12
$16
$20
Value of hay per ton
Total alfalfa weevil per 30 stems
$60
91
137
183
225
$80
68
102
136
171
$100
54
81
95
137
$120
45
68
91
114
$140
39
59
77
99
$160
34
51
68
86
$180
30
45
60
77
$200
27
41
54
69
$220
25
37
49
63

Table 3. Alfalfa 18 to 24 inches tall. Economic thresholds for alfalfa weevils
based on larvae per stem and calculated from the total larvae in a 30-stem sample.

 
Insecticide application cost per acre
 
$8
$12
$16
$20
Value of hay per ton
Total alfalfa weevil per 30 stems
$60
99
149
199
240
$80
75
113
150
186
$100
62
90
120
149
$120
50
75
100
124
$140
43
64
86
107
$160
37
56
75
93
$180
32
50
67
84
$200
29
45
60
76
$220
26
41
55
69

Table 4. Alfalfa 24 to 30 inches tall. Economic thresholds for alfalfa weevils
based on larvae per stem and calculated from the total larvae in a 30-stem sample.

 
Insecticide application cost per acre
 
$8
$12
$16
$20
Value of hay per ton
Total alfalfa weevil per 30 stems
$60
104
156
182
260
$80
78
117
137
195
$100
63
94
110
156
$120
52
78
105
130
$140
45
67
90
112
$160
39
58
79
98
$180
35
52
70
87
$200
31
47
63
79
$220
28
42
57
72

Management

If thresholds are exceeded, there are several insecticides available for management. Please refer to the latest South Dakota Pest Management Guide - Alfalfa and Oilseeds for labeled insecticides and their rates. Neighboring states have received reports of pyrethroid failures when these insecticides were applied to manage alfalfa weevils. If you observe a pyrethroid failure, please let us know. You can reach Adam Varenhorst at 605-688-6854 or by email.

Related Topics

Forage