Oklahoma Cotton: Managing Fleahoppers

Cotton fleahoppers on squaring stem. Photo: Stephen Biles, Texas AgriLife Extension

Hot dry weather has settled in across the state. Where adequate moisture is available growing conditions are excellent. The downside is where limited rainfall has occurred planting has to be postponed to wait for better conditions. Marginal moisture has also added stress to already emerged cotton.

Thrips control sprays continue across the state with also reports of grasshoppers damaging populations in Harmon and Tillman counties. No other pest have been reported.

As the crop reaches the squaring stage, the next pest to be concerned about is the cotton fleahopper.

Since the introduction of Bt cotton and boll weevil eradication the cotton fleahopper has become the number one pest in Oklahoma.

The cotton fleahopper usually feeds on young succulent weeds such as croton, goatweed, and horsenettle in early spring. These weeds also provide an overwintering site for eggs. As the weeds mature, adults migrate to cotton which is beginning to develop pinhead squares.

Fleahoppers insert their sucking mouthparts into the small squares. These damaged squares later turn brown and are shed from the plant.

In addition to squares, the cotton fleahopper will also feed on other parts of the plant. If heavy infestations exist, new growth will be abnormal and whip-like in appearance. All stages of the life cycle will feed on the plant as long as it remains succulent. As cotton matures, these insects migrate to weeds or other host crops.

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In southwest Oklahoma, the highest population typically occurs in cotton in early August, although this is not generally a problem that late in the season.

The life cycle begins with the female placing her eggs into the plant tissue by means of an ovipositor. The eggs hatch in approximately 1 week, and small nymphs (which are similar to the adults, except for being wingless) undergo five molts before reaching the adult stage. Egg to adult takes approximately 3 weeks with six to eight generations per year.

The cotton fleahopper adults are approximately one-eighth inch long, winged, and pale green in color. They are covered with small black spots and have four characteristic black spots near the wing tip. The nymphs are about one-twenty-fifth of an inch long, wingless, and pale green in color.

Numerous chemicals are registered for control of fleahoppers. In an ideal situation, fleahoppers should be controlled only when thresholds are exceeded in order to preserve beneficial insects since these will help control later occurring pests. Unless the cotton is extremely late, after July 25, control of cotton fleahoppers generally is not economical.

Spray decisions should be based on the squaring rate and level of cotton fleahopper infestation. Usually when cotton fleahoppers (adults and nymphs) reach or exceed 30 per 100 terminals and squaring rates begin to decline, treatment is justified.

However, if cotton fleahopper numbers build slowly, fields can tolerate higher numbers before a reduction in squaring rate will occur. In most cases, fields will no longer be vulnerable to cotton fleahoppers once they begin to bloom.

Chemical control of cotton fleahoppers is a fairly easy to accomplish and several products provide good control. However certain chemicals may not be advantageous.

Care must be taken to preserve beneficial arthropods that will help in controlling cotton aphids and spider mites. Flaring of these pests can be avoided by using products that are “softer” on beneficials.

The list of chemicals that control cotton fleahoppers includes Orthene (acephate), Bidrin, Intruder, Centric, Carbine, Lorsban, Steward, Lannate, Dimethoate, and various pyrethroids. Vydate is now back as an option for control measure. Historically this product has been found to be easy on beneficials.

Bidrin has a label allowing its use in cotton from emergence to prebloom, but you can’t apply more than 3.2 oz/ac during this period.

According to research conducted by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension at Lubbock, products least likely to flare secondary pests include Carbine, Bidrin, Steward and low rates of Orthene (acephate). Other insecticides such as Intruder and Centric won’t flare aphids and are probably fine to use as well, but these have been implicated in flaring mites.

Pyrethroids are NOT recommended for fleahopper control because they tend to be very disruptive to beneficials and may flare aphids. Pyrethroids can also exacerbate bollworm challenges in non‐Bt cotton.




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