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Another Year of Dectes Stem Borer Issues in Sunflower?

Originally Submitted: August 5, 2022

We received a lot of reports about Dectes stem borer infestations in 2021. Although conditions last year were drier (Figure 1), there are still areas experiencing drought during 2022 (Figure 2).

    Drought monitor map for the state of South Dakota. The majority of the state is experiencing varying levels of moderate to extreme drought.
    Figure 1. U.S. Drought Monitor for South Dakota. Released Thursday, July 22, 2021. Courtesy: U.S. Drought Monitor
    Drought monitor map for the state of South Dakota. Drought levels have significantly improved in large parts of the state compared to 2021.
    Figure 2. U.S. Drought Monitor for South Dakota. Released Thursday, August 4, 2021. Courtesy: U.S. Drought Monitor

    Dectes stem borers are an annual pest of sunflower in South Dakota. During most years, Dectes don’t cause major issues in sunflower, which can be attributed to stalk circumferences that prevent the larvae from effectively girdling the stalk and causing lodging. However, we have observed increased issues with Dectes stem borers during dry years. This is because dry conditions result in smaller stalks, which the larvae can girdle much more easily. The dry conditions will also cause sunflower stalk conditions to deteriorate earlier in the season, which forces the larvae to prepare for overwintering earlier in the season. As a result, lodging occurs before the sunflowers can be harvested, which results in increased yield loss. Based on the current drought conditions in our sunflower production areas, it is going to be likely that Dectes stem borer will cause lodging earlier than normal in the areas experiencing drought during 2022.



    Gray beetle with long antennae that are alternating white and black pattern on green leaf petiole.
    Figure 3. Dectes stem borer adult on sunflower petiole. Courtesy: Adam Varenhorst

    Dectes stem borer adults are gray and slender. They are approximately 3/8 of an inch in length with antennae that are as long as their body (Figure 3). The antennae have a distinctive black and gray alternating pattern.


    Accordion shaped white larvae with brown head in the center of a sunflower stem.
    Figure 4. Dectes stem borer larva in the center of a sunflower stem. Courtesy: Adam Varenhorst

    The larvae of the Dectes stem borer are present within sunflower stems. They are white to cream colored with an orange to brown head capsule. The larvae have an “accordion” like appearance due to constrictions between each body segment. They are legless and can be approximately ½ to 5/8 of an inch in length (Figure 4).

    Scouting and Management

    Dectes stem borer adults emerge in June to July and will seek out host plants. Although the adults may be observed, management is not successful or recommended due to the long emergence period. Females lay single eggs in each stem of the host plant. In sunflower, the Dectes stem borer larvae tunnel through the stem and feed on the pith tissue. Only one Dectes stem borer larva is observed in a stalk due to their cannibalistic nature. Although the larvae will feed on tissue within the stalk that results in a reduction of water and nutrient movement within the plant, no yield reductions have been observed from this activity in sunflower. In the late summer, the successful larva moves towards the base of the plant and will girdle the stem approximately two inches above the surface of the soil. The larva creates a cell below the girdle line for overwintering. In sunflower, the Dectes stem borer can only girdle approximately ½ of an inch outward from the center of the stalk. Therefore, larger diameter stalks can prevent the girdling from being successful and reduce the risk of lodging.

    Scouting for this pest should consist of monitoring fields during June and July for adult beetles.

    Insecticides are not an effective management strategy for the Dectes stem borer. If adults are observed, monitor the field throughout the summer to determine the level of infestation. In the fall, scout lodged plants by splitting the stem and examining for evidence of feeding or the presence of the larva.

    Insecticides are not effective at managing this pest due to the difficulty of timing an insecticide application to eliminate adult beetles. However, there are several other practices that can be implemented to reduce lodging and yield losses. These include:

    • Reduced planting populations to increase the diameter of the stalks.
    • Management of weeds within and around fields. Alternative hosts that are preferred for egg laying by the Dectes stem borer include cocklebur and giant ragweed.
    • Harvest as early as possible to reduce the impact of lodging. This strategy may result in the increased need to dry the sunflowers for storage.
    • Tillage to bury sunflower at least 2 to 3 inches deep. This strategy is not recommended for areas where no-till practices are employed.

    Related Topics

    Sunflower, Oilseed