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Watch for Red Sunflower Seed Weevils

In South Dakota, sunflower flowering is well underway. That means it is time to start scouting fields for red sunflower seed weevils. During the last two years, red sunflower seed weevil populations have been higher than normal with areas that exceeded the thresholds by as many as 300-500 adults per sunflower head. In addition, we also received reports and observed evidence of pyrethroid class insecticide failures regarding red sunflower seed weevil management. For these reasons, scouting in 2019 will be important both prior to and after insecticide applications to ensure that populations of this pest are effectively reduced. Our research during 2018 indicated that scouting 24 hours after application may overestimate insecticide failures. For this reason, we are recommending that scouting after a spray occurs 48-72 hours after application. We will continue to evaluate fields for pyrethroid resistant populations in 2019.

Identification

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

Appearance

Red sunflower seed weevil adults are a relatively small beetle (1/10 to 1/8 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.

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

Behavior

Red sunflower seed weevil adults are often present in fields prior to flowering, but they will move to the heads once flowering begins (Figure 2).

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

Larvae

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).

Scouting

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 the majority of the sunflowers in the field have reached R5.7, most eggs have already been laid and the seeds are too mature to be suitable for further red seed weevil egg 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, which makes 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 all of the plants have been examined, calculate the average number of red sunflower seed weevil adults per plant, present in the field.

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. Generally speaking, for most oilseed sunflower varieties, the economic threshold for red sunflower seed weevils is 4-6 adults per sunflower head. For confection sunflowers, the economic threshold is 1 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 2019 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. To determine if hives are nearby, please refer to the “Field Watch” website and register as an applicator.

Related Terms

Sunflower, Crop Management