Our site is currently being updated and pages are changing regularly. We thank you for your patience during this transition and hope that you find our new site easy to use.

Diamondback moth

  • Yellow DBM eggs beside a leaf vein darken as they mature
    Yellow diamondback moth (DBM) eggs beside a leaf vein. DBM eggs darken as they mature.
  • Adult, pupae and larvae
    Adult, pupae and larvae
  • Larvae feeding on leaf
    Mature DBM caterpillar with typical windowing damage.
  • Parasitic wasp
    Diadegma wasp searching for DBM caterpillars.

General information

Diamondback moth (DBM), Plutella xylostella, also referred to as cabbage moth or Plutella, is potentially the most damaging and difficult to manage pest of brassica vegetable crops.

Scientific name        

Plutella xylostella

Description of adult        

The moths are greyish-brown with a wingspan of about 10 mm and a body length of 10 mm. When the female moth is at rest the folded wings form a row of roughly diamond-shaped marks where they join. In male moths the diamond pattern is less distinct and some male moths are just brown. Moths are most active            in the early evening but can also be seen flying out of the crop when disturbed during the day.

Immature stages        

The eggs are pale yellow, flat, oval-shaped and about 0.5 mm long. Eggs are usually found stuck singly or in small groups beside the veins on the upper-side of the leaves or between the veins on the lower side, but can be laid anywhere on the plant. As the eggs mature they become deep yellow and a            day or two before hatching, two dark eye spots develop at one end giving the eggs a brownish appearance.

After hatching, the young caterpillars burrow into the leaf to feed. After one or more days, caterpillars emerge to feed externally on the underside of the leaves. When fully grown, caterpillars are about 10 mm long, plump and bright green.

Cocoons are generally stuck to the underside of a leaf but can be anywhere on the plant, including broccoli and cauliflower florets.

Life history        

The eggs hatch after about three days in hot weather but can take up to eight days to hatch in cool conditions. After one to two weeks, the caterpillar pupates inside a gauze-like silken cocoon. The adult moth emerges from the cocoon after 5 to 10 days.

Distribution        

Caterpillars are abundant through spring until autumn, especially during dry summers following a warm winter. Populations often persist through winter. In the warmer areas of south-eastern Queensland, DBM can cause damage throughout the season but autumn and spring crops are most at risk. Avoid summer            production in warm districts. In colder districts around Stanthorpe, mid to late summer crops sustain more damage than early summer crops.

DBM adults are weak fliers but can move over long distances with the wind. However, recent research suggests that moths are not very mobile once they have settled in a crop, preferring to move short distances within the crop but tending not to leave it.

Host range        

Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage and brussels sprouts.

Damage        

Very small caterpillars cause leaf mining (pinholing) damage, then as caterpillars mature, they cause 'windowing' damage, leaving just the epidermis. These 'windows' tear as the plant tissue grows, leaving holes in the leaves. High populations of DBM cause leaf tattering and can check growth during            early plant development.

Caterpillars may also tunnel into cabbage heads and brussels sprouts or feed inside broccoli and cauliflower florets. Once the caterpillars are within the developing head, sprouts or florets they are almost impossible to control with pesticide sprays. The presence of caterpillars and cocoons on and            inside heads, sprouts and florets, the fouling caused by caterpillar frass (droppings) and feeding damage to the heart tissue or wrapper leaves makes the product unfit for sale.

Control options        

DBM can quickly reach damaging levels. This is partly due to its short life cycle (less than 20 days in hot dry weather) and also the ability of the female moth to lay numerous eggs. The feeding habit of the caterpillars also makes them difficult to target effectively with pesticide sprays. In Queensland,            DBM has developed resistance to insecticides from the synthetic pyrethroid, organophosphate, carbamate and organochlorine groups of chemicals.

Your best chance of managing DBM successfully is to use an integrated pest management (IPM) approach. This approach relies on a combination of cultural strategies, biological controls, regular crop monitoring and strategic use of narrow-spectrum insecticides. There is some evidence that overuse of            broad-spectrum insecticides tends to kill off DBM´s natural enemies that usually help keep the pest in check. These problems are magnified if attempting to grow brassica vegetables during hot dry weather.

Crop monitoring

Crop monitoring or crop scouting is the regular systematic checking of crops for pests and diseases. Either check the crop yourself, train one of your staff to do it or employ a professional crop consultant. The 'Brassica Growers Handbook' contains detailed guidelines for how to monitor crops. Alternatively, use the DBM sampling plan developed            by the national DBM project team. The use of phermone traps and coloured sticky traps can augment (but not replace) crop monitoring.

Cultural controls

A production break - this helps to break the DBM life cycle. In areas with hot summers, such as the Lockyer Valley, do not grow brassicas over summer.

Farm layout - avoid paddocks with a history of DBM problems for early season plantings. Plant new crops upwind of older crops and separate blocks of plantings to reduce risk of DBM spreading to new plantings.

Crop hygiene - plant clean, healthy seedlings. Slash and turn in crop residues once harvesting is completed and keep the farm clean of brassica weeds. Where DBM has become unmanageable, immediately destroy crops.

Grow healthy plants - healthy plants are less likely to suffer from pests and diseases.

Biological control

A range of predators and parasitoids attack DBM and can give good control of the pest in mild weather. In Queensland the most significant of these is Diadegma semiclausum, a small, black, 7 mm long wasp which lays its eggs into young DBM caterpillars. To protect and enhance the activity of natural enemies do not use broad-spectrum insecticides and minimise the use of narrow-spectrum insecticides. The 'Brassica Problem Solver and Beneficials Identifier' has a table showing the 'Impact of insecticides on natural enemies found in brassica vegetables'.

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacterium, provides the active ingredient for a biological insecticide effective against DBM, heliothis and most other caterpillar pests of brassicas. Caterpillars must eat enough Bt to be killed. After eating a fatal dose, larvae will stop feeding but it may            take a few days for them to die. Time the spray application to target small caterpillars and ensure spray equipment is capable of achieving good crop coverage. Bt affects only caterpillars and so fits well into an IPM program. It does not harm the adult stages of natural enemies and is relatively soft            on their immature stages. DBM resistance to Bt has been reported overseas, so Bt should not be the only strategy for managing DBM.

Chemical control

Insecticides. Apply only when necessary, based on monitoring results. Choose the insecticide that is least disruptive to natural enemies and spray only those plantings where DBM or other pests are likely to cause economic damage (see the natural enemies impact table). Rotate between            different chemical groups to reduce the risk of insecticide resistance developing.

Other pest problems. These can have a negative impact on DBM management. Avoid using broad-spectrum insecticides to control pests such as centre grub, cluster caterpillar species, heliothis, thrips and silverleaf whitefly. One option is to delay planting until these pests are less active,            or to accept higher levels of damage early or late in the season.

Spray equipment. Well-maintained and regularly calibrated spray equipment will give the best spray results. Make sure that spray equipment is set up so it is capable of achieving good plant coverage. This includes the underside of leaves where DBM caterpillars feed.

Chemical registrations and permits

Check the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority chemical database and permit database for chemicals registered or approved under permit to treat this pest on the target crop in your state or            location. Always read the label. Always observe withholding periods.

Further information

Brassica problem solver and beneficials identifier