Helicoverpa armigera resistance management strategy

Tomato fruitworm
Helicoverpa armigera can become
resistant to many insecticides.
(Photo: Paolo Mazzei)

P.J. Cameron1 and G.P. Walker2
120 Westminster Road, Mt Eden, Auckland 1003, New Zealand
2Crop & Food Research Ltd., Private Bag 92 169, Auckland, New Zealand

(Revised October 2004)

Reasons for strategy and update

Helicoverpa armigera (tomato fruitworm) is capable of becoming resistant to insecticides. Management strategies aimed at preventing or minimising resistance will help maintain control and conserve the effectiveness of existing products. This is an update of the earlier resistance management strategy (Cameron 1996).


Tomato fruitworm, also called corn ear worm, is a pest of vegetable and flower crops. Caterpillars damage flower, fruit and leaves. Insecticides are used to control H. armigera on processing vegetable crops, such as tomatoes, sweet corn, beans and lettuce, as well as greenhouse crops and ornamentals. Populations in peas, squash, lucerne, pines and a wide variety of plants in waste areas, such as clovers, Lotus, chicory and mallow, are usually not directly treated. Helicoverpa armigera has a low damage threshold because it attacks flowers and fruit. Control on processing crops, particularly tomatoes, relied mainly on the use of synthetic pyrethroids (SPs) until the mid 1990s when fears of resistance led to the development of IPM strategies.

Overseas, resistance to synthetic pyrethroids has been of particular concern and control failures in Australia have led to the development of a strategy to limit resistance in crops in which H. armigera is a key pest (Forrester 1990). Resistance to SPs also occurs in Thailand and India, and Heliothis virescens has become resistant in the USA. Helicoverpa armigera has a history of resistance to DDT and has also developed resistance to endosulfan (Forrester et al. 1993), carbamates and organophosphates (Gunning et al. 1992).

The original genus Heliothis has now been split into Heliothis and Helicoverpa. Helicoverpa armigera is the only species resident in New Zealand. This species occurs on a wide range of crop, ornamental and weed plants. It is commonly known as tomato fruitworm, but on sweet corn or maize it is known as corn earworm. Helicoverpa punctigera adults are occasional vagrants, but larvae are rarely found. No Heliothis spp. occur in New Zealand.

Products with label claims for H. armigera control in New Zealand

Table 1: Products with label claims for control of H. armigera, tomato fruitworm (TFW) (also called corn earworm) in New Zealand (September 2002). Not all products listed for each pesticide may have a label claim for all crops indicated. C = caterpillars in crops where tomato fruitworm may be present.
Pesticide category and IRAC chemical groupType of label claim for each crop
Pesticide common and (product) names Beans Sweet corn & maize Tomatoes Vegetable brassicas Vegetables Ornamentals & flowers
Carbamates 1A
carbaryl (Carbaryl, Sevin)   TFW TFW   TFW  
methomyl (Lannate)   TFW TFW      
Organo-phosphate 1B
acephate (Lancer, Orthene)     C     C
acephate and triforine (Saprene)           C
chlorpyrifos (Chlorpyriphos, Pychlorex, Spectrum)   TFW in maize     C in squash C
Diazinon (Basudin, Dew, Diazinon, Diazinyl) C C C C C  
dichlorvos (Nuvos)       C C C
maldison (Malathion, Yates Maldison)         TFW  
methamidophos (Metafort) TFW   TFW etc      
trichlorfon (Trifon)   TFW TFW      
Cyclodiene 2A
endosulfan (No longer registered)     C      
Pyrethroids 3
alpha-cypermethrin (Bestox, Dominex)   TFW TFW TFW    
bifenthrin (Talstar)     TFW     C
cyfluthrin (Bathroid)   TFW TFW      
cypermethrin (Ripcord)   TFW TFW TFW    
deltamethrin (Decis, Deltaphar)   TFW TFW     TFW1
esfenvalerate (Sumialpha) TFW TFW TFW TFW    
lamda-cyhalothrin (Karate Zeon) TFW   TFW      
taufluvalinate (Mavrik, Supershield)     TFW     C
Pyrethrins 3
pyrethrum (Garlic & Pyrethrum)         C C
Pyrethroids/organophospates 3 & 1B
cypermethrin/trichlorfon (Partna)   TFW TFW      
permethrin/pirimiphosmethyl (Attack)     C in green-
C C in cucurbits C
Spinosyns 5
Spinosad (Success Naturalyte)     TFW      
Btk 11B2
Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki (Delfin, Dipel DF, MVP*II)     TFW      

1and in pine tree nurseries

Current status of H. armigera resistance in New Zealand

Control failures resulting from resistance have not been reported in New Zealand. The LD50 for fenvalerate (a standard synthetic pyrethroid) has increased from 1992 to 1995, and although the frequency of individuals surviving normal field concentrations is still low, increases have been recorded (Cameron et al. 1995). Overseas information suggests that control failures may develop with continual selection.

An IPM programme was initiated in processing tomatoes and sweet corn in Gisborne and Hawke's Bay in 1990 (Walker & Cameron 1990). This helped reduce the number of applications of SPs to these crops.

Two larval parasitoids of H. armigera, Cotesia kazak and Microplitis croceipes, were successfully introduced into New Zealand and total parasitism in processing tomato crops on the east coast increased from <1% prior to introductions to between 60 and 80%. However, parasitism rates are low in corn, and management of H. armigera focuses mainly on early harvest or control of the damaging third generation of larvae in corn.

In tomatoes, early season insecticide applications against aphids and thrips were demonstrated to be ineffective or unnecessary for control of virus vectors and insecticide applications in early tomato crops are now not normally required. Reductions in insecticide use and the increasing use of Bt sprays, and more recently spinosad, are associated with increased larval parasitism rates. The action threshold has been raised by growers in response to this increased parasitism (Walker & Cameron, unpubl. data). In late season crops, by monitoring for spray timing and using a floating action threshold, which takes into account levels of parasitism in individual crops, the number of applications has been minimised. Insecticide applications have decreased by 90% since the implementation of the IPM programme (Walker, unpubl. data).

Resistance management and prevention strategy

General strategies for managing resistance are based on minimising insecticide applications and alternating the insecticide groups applied to each generation of H. armigera. Because this species is very mobile, the alternation relies on collaboration between industry groups growing crops that may be infested with H. armigera.

Recommendations for tomatoes, beans, sweet corn, maize, vegetable brassicas, lettuce, and other vegetables and ornamentals infested with H. armigera follow. Also see Herman (1995) for IPM in tomatoes.

Research strategies should include ongoing monitoring of resistance to SP insecticides.


Growers should monitor their crops for H. armigera to ensure insecticides are applied only when necessary.

Synthetic pyrethroids with label claims for use against H. armigera should carry the following label statement:

Resistance to this pesticide may develop from excessive use. To minimise this risk use strictly in accordance with label instructions. For crops infested with H. armigera do not apply before 7 January and avoid unnecessary spraying. Maintain good cultural practices.


Cameron PJ 1996. Helicoverpa armigera resistance management strategy. In: Bourdot GW, Suckling DM (ed). Pesticide Resistance: Prevention and Management. New Zealand Plant Protection Society, Lincoln, NZ. Pp. 210-212.

Cameron PJ, Walker GP, Herman TJB 1995. Development of resistance to fenvalerate in Helicoverpa armigera in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Crop & Horticultural Science 23: 429-436.

Forrester NW 1990. Designing, implementing and servicing an insecticide resistance management strategy. Pesticide Science 28: 167-179.

Forrester NW, Cahill M, Bird LJ, Layland JK 1993. Management of pyrethroid and endosulfan resistance in Helicoverpa armigera (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) in Australia. Bulletin of Entomological Research, supplement 1. 132 pp.

Gunning RV, Balfe ME, Easton CS 1992. Carbamate resistance in Helicoverpa armigera (Hubner) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) in Australia. Journal of Australian Entomological Society 31: 97-103.

Herman TJB ed. 1995. Integrated Pest Management for processing tomatoes. Crop & Food Research IPM Manual No. 5.

Walker GP, Cameron PJ 1990. Pheromone trapping and field scouting for tomato fruitworm in tomatoes and sweet corn. Proceedings of the 43rd New Zealand Weed & Pest Control Conference: 17-20.