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Black Cutworm (Agrotis ipsilon)

Black Cutworm

Black cutworm of the owlet moth family has an extensive distribution occupying parts of Asia, Europe, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The larvae have an ill reputation of cutting through plants and crops, causing immense damage to them, thus rightly called ‘cutworm.’

Description and Identification


Black Cutworm Caterpillar

The larvae’s color varies from grayish-brown to light gray or even black. Some species might have a light brown coloration in their ventral region. At the same time, the dorsal band remains completely absent in them. Their body has many granules, while several dark spots cover their head. The entire larval stage goes between five and nine instars, with the caterpillar growing 3.5 – 5.cm long.

Scientific Classification

  • Family: Noctuidae
  • Genus: Agrotis
  • Scientific Name: Agrotis ipsilon

In certain parts of the United States, they are known to be a serious pest of corns, besides tobacco, sugar beet, potato, tomato, sunflower, maize, and cotton.


Black Cutworm Pupa

The pupae have a dark brown body with a length and width of 1. 2 -1.7 cm and 0.5 – 0.6 cm. The pupal phase takes place underground in the soil spanning from 12 to 20 days.

Adult Moth

Sexual Dimorphism: Not prominent

Color and Appearance


They are grayish-brown with black zigzag lines looking like a dagger on each wing’s outer edge. 

Black Cutworm Moth
Agrotis ipsilon


They are whitish or grayish, with dark veins intersecting them.

Average Wingspan: 3.81 cm

Flight Pattern: Consistent

Season: February – June


Black Cutworm Eggs

The spherical-shaped eggs flattened at the base are white in the beginning turning brown eventually as they mature. The eggs also have about 40 long and short ribs arranged alternately, radiating from their body’s uppermost point. The females lay them on leaves mostly in clusters, with the phase lasting between three and six days.

Quick Facts

Other NamesDark sword grass, ipsilon dart, greasy cutworm, floodplain cutworm, black cutworm
DistributionSouthern parts of Canada, Mexico, South and Central America, New Zealand, Australia, Europe, Asia, North Africa
HabitatHome gardens, fields, forests, and every other place where its host plants grow
PredatorsWasp species like the Meteorus leviventris, flies, ant species like the turfgrass ant, and ground beetles
Lifespan of adultsAbout two weeks
Host PlantsWeeds like curled dock, bluegrass, yellow rocket, redroot pigweed, lambsquarters; crops such as alfalfa, rice, cotton, clover, strawberry, sorghum, tobacco, sugarbeet
Adult DietNectar of flowers and also lilac, crabapple, wild plum, linden

Did You Know

  • They are seasonal migrants, traveling north and south in spring and fall.
  • Their scientific name ‘ipsilon’ is derived from the Greek word upsilon, translating to the letter ‘y’. That is how the shape of the black markings on their forewing appears.
Dark Sword Grass
Black Cutworm Damage
Greasy Cutworm

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