Home / Noctuid Moths (Noctuidae) / Corn Earworm Moth (Helicoverpa zea)

Corn Earworm Moth (Helicoverpa zea)

The corn earworm moth is a member of the family of Noctuid moths. It can thrive on multiple hosts; as a result, the larvae are a common pest in the US.

Corn Earworm Moth


Scientific Classification

  • Family: Noctuidae
  • Genus: Helicoverpa
  • Scientific Name: Helicoverpa zea

Description and Identification


The larvae have orange heads, black thorax plates, and primarily black bodies. Sometimes caterpillars of different colors like brown, green, pink, and yellow have also been observed. Their bodies are covered with thorny microspines. The caterpillars go through 4-6 instars, feeding together while young but becoming more aggressive and cannibalistic while maturing. Hence, only 1-2 fully mature larvae finally remain on a single host plant, out of the many that hatch from eggs.

Corn Earworm Moth Caterpillar



After fully maturing, the larvae begin to pupate 5-10 cm below the soil’s surface. They are brown, 5.5 mm wide, and 17-22 mm long. The survival of the pupae depends heavily on factors such as the moisture content and temperature of the soil. In case of the low moisture in the soil the pupae could die out of dehydration.

Corn Earworm Moth Pupa


Adult Moth

Sexual Dimorphism: Present but not prominent.

Color and Appearance

Forewing: When opened, the wings are yellow-brown, with a dark spot located right at the center. Sometimes, a broad dark traverse band is seen on the wing. When closed, the spot cannot be clearly seen.

Hindwing: When opened, they display a creamy-white coloration basally and a blackish hue distally. Sometimes, a tiny spot can be seen centrally. When closed, the creamy-white color is vaguely visible.

Average wingspan: 32-45 mm

Flight pattern: Erratic; depending entirely on mating.

Season: May-August


They are pale green, in the beginning, becoming yellow and later gray over time. A single egg is deposited on either leaf hair or corn silk. Their shape varies from slightly domed to a flat sphere, measuring 0.5-0.6 mm in diameter and 0.5 mm in height.

Corn Earworm Moth Eggs


Quick Facts

Other NamesCotton bollworm, tomato fruitworm
DistributionThroughout both the Americas, except for Canada and Alaska
HabitatTropical and temperate climes
PredatorsInsidious flower bug, parasitic and braconid wasps
Lifespan of Adults5-16 days; in optimal conditions, they can live up to 30 days
Host PlantsPrimarily corn and tomato; also, artichoke, asparagus, cabbage, cantaloupe, collard, cowpea, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, lima bean, melon, okra, pea, pepper, potato, pumpkin, snap bean, spinach, squash, sweet potato, and watermelon
Adult DietNectar from plants

Did You Know

  • This species is nocturnal, hiding in vegetation during the day. 
  • They can be carried downwind up to 400 km at a time.
Tomato Fruitworm Moth


Corn Earworm Moth Picture


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