Skip to main content

Red Sunflower Seed Weevils Emerging in South Dakota

Written collaboratively by Adam Varenhorst, Amanda Bachmann, Philip Rozeboom, Patrick Wagner, and Brad McManus.

Originally Submitted: August 7, 2023

Red sunflower seed weevil adults are emerging in South Dakota, and some have been observed in sunflower fields. The fields where the weevils have been observed do have some flowers that are starting to reach the R5.1 growth stage. Scouting should begin as fields reach the R5 growth stage and continue until R5.7. For the last few years, the red sunflower seed weevil populations have been higher than normal in many areas of South Dakota. In some areas, the populations have exceeded the economic threshold (which is 4 to 6 adults per head) with as many as 300 to 1,000 adults per sunflower head.

In addition to large populations, since 2017 we have received reports and observed evidence of red sunflower seed weevils that have reduced susceptibility to pyrethroid class insecticides. These populations often remain above threshold even after the application of insecticides with the active ingredient lambda-cyhalothrin, esfenvalerate, or zeta-cypermethrin. For these reasons, scouting in 2023 will be important both prior to and after insecticide applications to ensure that populations of this pest are effectively reduced.

Research conducted in South Dakota confirmed that the populations of red sunflower seed weevils that were tested in 2022 were resistant to the active ingredients lambda-cyhalothrin and esfenvalerate. These products should be avoided in areas where field failures have occurred during previous years.

If you believe you have a pyrethroid resistant red sunflower seed weevil population, please reach out to Dr. Adam Varenhorst.



Red-brown colored weevil with bent antennae originating on the elongated mouthparts.
Figure 1. Red sunflower seed weevil adult. Courtesy: Adam Varenhorst

Red sunflower seed weevil adults are relatively small beetles (one-tenth to one-eighth of an inch long) that are a reddish-brown color. Like other weevils, they have mouthparts that extend forward beyond the head and form a snout (Figure 1). The antennae originate on this snout.

Red sunflower seed weevil adults are often present in fields prior to flowering and may be observed in the developing bud. Once flowering begins, they will move to the heads and often will crawl between the florets (Figure 2).

Larvae of the red sunflower seed weevil are cream-colored and relatively small. However, the larvae are not typically observed, as they feed directly on the developing seed (Figure 3).

In Sunflower Florets

Several red-brown colored weevils crawling on the yellow florets of a sunflower. One is circled.
Figure 2. Red sunflower seed weevils on the florets of a sunflower. Courtesy: Patrick Wagner


Cream colored larvae feeding on sunflower seed.
Figure 3. Red sunflower seed weevil larva. Courtesy: Frank Peairs, Colorado State University,


Scouting for red sunflower seed weevils should begin when the yellow ray petals are visible on the face of the developing bud (R4 growth stage) and continue until 70% of pollen shed has occurred (R5.7 growth stage). Once most of the sunflowers in the field have reached R5.7, most egg-laying has finished, and the seeds are too mature to be suitable for further red sunflower seed weevil oviposition.

To scout for red sunflower seed weevils, walk approximately 75 feet into the field and examine five random plants. Next, walk to another location approximately 75 feet from the first and scout an additional five plants. Repeat this process until a total of 25 sunflower plants have been examined in the field. Developing heads can be examined by simply rubbing the face of the head to disturb the weevils and make them easier to count. If this method doesn’t work, they can also be scouted for by using an aerosol insect repellant, which is sprayed across the head. After spraying, simply wait for the beetles to begin to emerge and count them. Once the plants have been examined, calculate the average number of red sunflower seed weevil adults per plant.

Economic Threshold and Management

For red sunflower seed weevils, the economic threshold is dependent on the value of the crop, cost of insecticide management, and the planting population of the sunflower. For oilseed sunflower varieties, the economic threshold for red sunflower seed weevils is four to six adults per sunflower head. For confection sunflowers, the economic threshold is one red sunflower seed weevil per head. Ideally, management of the red sunflower seed weevil populations should also reduce other pests, including the banded sunflower moth, sunflower moth, and tarnished plant bug.

For a list of insecticides currently labeled for red sunflower seed weevil management, please refer to the latest South Dakota Pest Management Guide: Alfalfa and Oilseeds.

Since management of the red sunflower seed weevil occurs during flowering, considerations should be made to reduce the potential impact of the spray on pollinators. It is best to treat in the morning or evening, when pollinators are least active. To determine if hives are nearby, please refer to the Field Watch website and register as an applicator.

Related Topics