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Climbing cutworms

Euxoa messoria (Harris)
Abagrotis alternate (Grote)
Feltia jaculifera (Guenée)
Abagrotis alternate (Grote)
Xestia c-nigrum (L.)
Peridroma saucia (Hübner)
Spaelotis clandestine (Harris)

Lepidoptera: Noctuidae

A large complex of similar species including: Darksided cutworm, Euxoa messoria (Harris); Mottled cutworm, Abagrotis alternate (Grote); Dingy cutworm, Feltia jaculifera (Guenée); Mottled cutworm, Abagrotis alternate (Grote); Spotted cutworm, Xestia c-nigrum (L.); Variegated cutworm Peridroma saucia (Hübner), W-marked cutworm Spaelotis clandestine (Harris).

Adults are dark brown or grayish colored moths. Larvae tend to be smooth caterpillars with few hairs, brown or black head capsules (sometimes with distinctive markings), and bodies a dull gray-brown background color with stripes, spots, or dark brown, black, yellow or white splotches (A, B).


Most notable as pests in the central and mid-Atlantic states.


Various species attack apple, peach, pear, and plum. Partly grown larvae overwinter and begin activity in the spring, when they climb trees from the orchard floor at night to feed on buds, blossoms and young foliage, returning to seek shelter during the day. Feeding tends to be confined to lower central canopy and trunk areas, but high populations can strip whole trees. Small trees can be stunted or exhibit abnormal growth. In two-brood species, second brood feeding is minor.


Elimination of weed infestations, particularly around young trees, will help suppress cutworm damage. Because of the sporadic nature of this pest complex, thresholds have not been established. Small trees are harmed the most by heavy defoliation, but large trees can withstand even several successive years of heavy defoliation in spring.

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The MSU IPM Program maintains this site as an access point to pest management information at MSU. The IPM Program is administered within the Department of Entomology, fueled by research from the AgBioResearch, delivered to citizens through MSU Extension, and proud to be a part of Project GREEEN.