Wheat Stem Sawfly


The larvae of wheat stem sawfly (Cephus cinctus), a common pest impacting wheat crops, feed on the stems of wheat plants, leading to disease susceptibility, lodging and a decline in grain quality.

Early detection and effective management strategies, such as crop rotation, resistant wheat varieties and timely insecticide applications, are crucial to minimize these negative effects.

(Image Credit: Frank Peairs, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org)


How to Identify Wheat Stem Sawfly

Indicators of wheat stem sawfly infestation include lodged plants, which may appear bent or broken near the base. Splitting the stems lengthwise can confirm the presence of larvae inside.

Observing adult sawflies flying around fields during the summer months is also a strong indication of an active population.

Adult sawflies are small and slender, with black bodies and distinctive yellow markings. They closely resemble wasps and can often be observed flying around wheat fields during the summer months. The larvae of wheat stem sawfly are white in color and lack legs. They have a distinct brown head capsule, which sets them apart from other pests.

Timing of Wheat Stem Sawfly Infestations

Understanding the lifecycle of wheat stem sawfly is crucial for effective management. Adult sawflies emerge from their overwintering sites in late spring or early summer. They lay their eggs on the stems of wheat plants, usually near the nodes or leaf sheaths. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae tunnel into the stems, where they begin their destructive feeding frenzy. Throughout the summer months, these voracious larvae continue to feed on the plant tissue, causing significant damage.

Regular scouting during this time is important to assess the severity of the infestation. Toward the end of summer or early fall, the mature larvae exit the stems and pupate in the soil.

Disrupting their pupal stage through cultural practices like deep tillage or crop rotation can reduce their numbers for the next growing season. Timing control measures according to weather conditions can also enhance their effectiveness.

(Image Credit: Pest and Diseases Image Library, Bugwood.org)

Regions Affected by Wheat Stem Sawfly

Wheat stem sawfly is a common and persistent pest in the northern Great Plains region of the United States and Canada, including areas like North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

However, the range of this pest is not limited to these specific regions alone. It is important to remain vigilant and proactive in pest management strategies, even in areas where it has not historically been observed.

How to Manage Wheat Stem Sawfly

Planting resistant wheat varieties (contain a solid stem trait) may be helpful for managing wheat stem sawfly. Implementing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices should be the first line of defense against wheat stem sawfly. This holistic approach involves:

  • regularly monitoring population levels

  • scouting for eggs and larvae

  • considering cultural and biological control methods, including using crop rotation to disrupt overwintering insect populations


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