BIOSECURITY ALERT - Spodoptera frugiperda – Fall armyworm

Spodoptera frugiperda – Fall armyworm

12 February 2020

Torres Strait - Queensland

Key Points
  • The exotic pest Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) has been detected for the first time in Australia (7 specimens), on the northern Torres Strait islands of Saibai and Erub in late January 2020 and on the tip of Cape York (Bamaga) in February 2020. Saibai Island is very close to the Papua New Guinea (PNG) mainland (approx. 4km) however Erub Island is more than 70km from PNG and over 100km South East of Saibai Island. Both Islands are more than 100km from mainland Australia.
  • Key fall armyworm identification information at:
  • Adult fall armyworm (moths) were detected on the two Islands, and in Bamaga, in a network of surveillance traps managed by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment’s Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS).
  • Currently there is no evidence that fall armyworm has established in the Torres Strait or on Cape York with no larvae (caterpillar) being detected on host plants to date.
  • The detection sites are a significant distance from the nearest commercial production area, in Lakeland Downs and Atherton Tableland.

Situation overview
  • The Queensland Government Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is working with the Australian Government, state and territory governments, and with industry groups (Greenlife Industry Australia), and communities to assess the distribution, host range and threat of the pest and develop a response strategy.
  • The response strategy will help determine the current distribution of fall armyworm in Queensland, while seeking to contain the pest through regulatory measures.
  • The Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP) met on 6 February 2020 and concluded to recommend to the National Management Group that fall armyworm is an Emergency Plant Pest and that further information is required to determine if it is technically feasible to eradicate.
  • Fall armyworm larvae (caterpillar) is known to eat and destroy more than 350 plant species, including maize, cotton, rice, sorghum, sugarcane, wheat and many vegetable, fruit and ornamental crops and have caused significant economic losses overseas. The following are some of the recorded fall armyworm host plant families:

  1. Asteraceae – e.g. Chrysanthemum
  2. Brassicaceae – e.g. Cabbage
  3. Cucurbitaceae – e.g. Watermelon
  4. Ericaceae – e.g. Blueberry
  5. Fabaceae – e.g. Beans/peas
  6. Geraniaceae – e.g. Pelargonium
  7. Myrtaceae – e.g. Eucalyptus
  8. Poaceae – e.g. Wheat/sugarcane
  9. Rosaceae – e.g. Roses/peach/apple
  10. Solanaceae – e.g. Tomato/capsicum
  11. Vitaceae – e.g. Grapes

  • Destruction of crops can happen almost overnight without control measures when larval (caterpillars) population levels are high.
  • The islands of the Torres Strait, while part of Australia, hold a special biosecurity designation. Under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth), no plant or animal material or soil can be moved from Papua New Guinea or the islands to the Australian mainland without meeting biosecurity regulations.
  • This is in recognition of the additional risk posed by proximity to Papua New Guinea and the relative freedom of movement of indigenous people between Papua New Guinea and the Torres Strait Protected Zone.
  • Bamaga is located within the far northern biosecurity zone 1 gazetted under the Queensland Biosecurity Act 2014. Restrictions apply to the movement plants and plant products from this zone, including fall armyworm host material.
  • Any operational activity required on traditionally owned lands in Queensland will be undertaken only after consultation with traditional owners and relevant representative groups.

About Fall armyworm
  • Fall armyworm is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. Since 2016 it has rapidly spread to and throughout Africa, the Indian subcontinent, China and Southeast Asia.
  • Fall armyworm larvae (caterpillars) are most active during late summer and early autumn months.
  • Adults (moths) can fly long distances and their migration rate is remarkably fast. As well as natural dispersal, they can also be spread through movement of people.
  • Australia’s conditions are favourable for this pest to establish and spread, including our climate and suitable hosts.
  • It is most likely found in warm, moist regions with little forest cover or hitchhiking on fresh vegetables or fruit.
  • Evidence of the pest could include egg masses, plant leaf damage or fruit or vegetable damage. See
  • There are species of Spodoptera already present in Australia which can look similar to fall armyworm. Some are pests, such as lawn armyworm and day-feeding armyworm.
  • In early 2016, fall armyworm was detected in Central and Western Africa and has quickly spread across most of Sub-Saharan Africa. By December 2018, it had been reported in the Indian subcontinent. In June 2019 it was reported in China and Southeast Asia.

What to look for
  • The eggs are pale yellow in colour and clustered together in a mass, which often contain 100 – 200 eggs per mass. Egg masses are usually attached to foliage with a layer of mould/silk-like furry substance.
  • The larvae are light coloured with a larger darker head. As they develop, they become browner with white lengthwise stripes. They also develop dark spots with spines.
  • The adult moths are 32 to 40mm in length wing tip to wing tip, with a brown or grey forewing and a white hind wing. Male fall armyworms have more patterns and a distinct white spot on each of their forewings.
  • For photos and further information about this pest visit the industry pest identification website or Queensland Government website.

Biosecurity and reporting
Advice for growers
  • Production nurseries can put measures in place to reduce the chance of pests and disease getting into their cropping systems. These include:

  1. using pest-free propagation material including seeds and budwood, sourced from a reputable supplier/scheme such as NIASA BMP or BioSecure HACCP certified businesses
  2. using pest-free vegetative propagation material sourced from a known and reputable supplier where motherstock is inspected and found free of pest and disease symptoms
  3. implement industry based biosecurity programs across the production system that support procedures for sourcing, inspecting, treating and managing plant material i.e. BioSecure HACCP.
  4. putting up farm biosecurity signs on gates and fences to manage visitors and vegetative material coming onto your property
  5. avoid sharing equipment
  6. keep equipment and vehicles clean and free of plant matter
  7. wear clean clothing before visiting other growers’ properties
  8. ensure staff are aware of on-farm hygiene practices, know what to look for and how to report unusual pests and diseases.

  • Early detection, reporting and not moving plants suspected of being infested/infected is vital, and will give us the best chance of eradicating pests and diseases.
  • Signs of infestation/infection can look like other pests and diseases that are known in Australia. All suspect pests/symptoms must be reported.
  • If you think you have a plant infested/infected with a suspect emergency plant pest please contact the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881. This will put you in touch with the department of primary industries or agriculture in your state or territory.
  • You should not collect a sample or move the suspect plant.
  • Most states have an app or mechanism for submitting a photo for preliminary diagnosis. The photo should be a clear image of the suspect plant, the pests/disease symptoms and the plant’s label, if you still have it.

Australia’s response arrangements
  • The Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests provides technical and scientific advice in response to exotic plant pest and disease outbreaks. The Committee is chaired by Australia’s Chief Plant Protection Officer and comprises the Chief Plant Health Managers from each state and territory, other specialists from government, Plant Health Australia, and representatives from affected industries (Greenlife Industry Australia), which in this incident include more than 20, that are signatories to the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed.
  • The National Management Group (NMG) comprises Chief Executive Officers from government agencies responsible for agriculture, and affected industry organisations (Greenlife Industry Australia) that are signatories to the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed. It is chaired by the Secretary of the Australian Government Department of Agriculture. Plant Health Australia is a non-voting member.
  • NMG makes decisions on whether or not to support national eradication programs for pest or disease outbreaks under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed. NMG considers recommendations provided by the consultative committee before making decisions on whether or not a pest or disease is technically feasible and cost-beneficial to eradicate.
  • The Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed is a formal legally binding agreement between Plant Health Australia, the Australian, state and territory governments, and national plant industry bodies representing specific cropping sectors. The Deed covers the management and funding of nationally agreed responses to emergency plant pests.
For further information contact the GIA National Biosecurity Manager John McDonald email: or call 07 3277 7900.