corn earworm moth

(Helicoverpa zea)

corn earworm moth
Photo by Babette Kis
  Hodges #


Conservation Status
  IUCN Red List

not listed


NNR - Unranked

SNR - Unranked


not listed


Corn earworm moth is a medium-sized, late season, flower moth. It occurs across the United States and southern Canada, in Mexico, in Central America, and in South America. It is common in Minnesota. Larvae feed on a wide variety of herbaceous plants. It is a major pest of many agricultural crops, including corn, tomatoes, and cotton. Other common names for it are tomato fruitworm and cotton bollworm. Adults do not survive northern winters. They migrate north every year, first appearing in Minnesota in late July or in August, depending on the severity of the preceding winter. They are found in croplands, old fields, and other open disturbed areas.

Adults are 1116 to (18 to 22 mm) in length and have a 1¼to 1¾ (32 to 45 mm) wingspan. Moth size is often given in terms of forewing length, which in this case is to ¾ (16 to 20 mm).

The forewing of the female is yellowish-brown to orangish-brown and mottled with gray to reddish-brown. The terminal area is lighter and the subterminal area is usually darker. The lines are light gray, orangish-brown, or the same color as the background but darker. On some individuals they are faint and barely perceptible. The basal and antemedial (AM) lines are scalloped with the scallops pointed rearward. The AM line has dots at the bases of the scallops. The median line is wavy. The postmedial (PM) and subterminal lines are scalloped with the scallops pointing forward. There is a dark dot, often with a smaller white spot, at the base of each scallop. The terminal line is represented as a row of small dots between the veins. The orbicular spot is round and the same color as the wing background but with a dark spot in the center and a thin faint outline. The reniform spot is similar but kidney-shaped and with a dark blotch in the center. The fringe is darker than the terminal area.

The hindwing is pale brownish-white with dark gray veins; a dark, bar-like discal spot; a broad dark terminal band; and a white fringe. The terminal band has two pale spots near the outer margin.

The male is similar but lighter and with a green to olive cast.

The caterpillar is up to 1916 (4 cm) long and is highly variable in color. It may be pale tan, yellow, orange, red, maroon, green, dark brown, or nearly black. The body is covered with minute black spines, but these are visible only under magnification. Longitudinal stripes on the body may be well-defined, diffuse, or faint. There is a thin dark stripe in the middle (middorsal), a dark stripe on each side above the breathing pores (spiracles) and a pale stripe below the spiracles. On the first segment of the thorax there is a pair of stiff hairs (setae). Unlike most noctuid moth caterpillars, these setae are aligned horizontally, parallel to the body axis.




Total length: 1116 to (18 to 22 mm)

Wingspan: 1¼to 1¾ (32 to 45 mm)

Forewing length: to ¾ (16 to 20 mm)


Similar Species


Croplands, old fields, open disturbed areas




Several generations per year: Late July through September




Adults are active at night and will come to lights.


Life Cycle




Larva Hosts


A wide variety of herbaceous plants


Adult Food


Flower nectar


Distribution Map



4, 21, 22, 29, 30, 71, 75, 82, 83.







Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths)  


Noctuoidea (owlet moths and allies)  


Noctuidae (cutworm moths and allies)  


Heliothinae (flower moths)  





Helicoverpa stombleri

Heliothis ochracea

Heliothis stombleri

Heliothis umbrosus

Heliothis zea

Phalaena zea


Common Names


corn earworm (larvae)

corn earworm moth (adult)

cotton bollworm

tomato fruitworm











A stiff, hair-like process on the outer surface of an organism. In Lepidoptera: A usually rigid bristle- or hair-like outgrowth used to sense touch. In mosses: The stalk supporting a spore-bearing capsule and supplying it with nutrients. Plural: setae. Adjective: setose.



A small opening on the surface of an insect through which the insect breathes.






Visitor Photos

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Bobbi Johnson


On my sunflower!

    corn earworm moth      

Here's another one from the garden earlier.

    corn earworm moth      

Babette Kis


Helicoverpa zea corn earworm moth

… on New England aster.

  corn earworm moth  

corn earworm moth






Corn Earworm
Dave Beaudette
  Corn Earworm  

Helicoverpa zea

Corn earworm
Scott Nelsonz
  Corn earworm  

Helicoverpa zea




Visitor Videos

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Other Videos
  Corn earworm (Helicoverpa zea) time-lapse
Arne Christensen

Aug 3, 2012

Developmental stages of corn earworms with mixed time-lapse and real time video microscopy. The movie was done in collaboration with Cell Biology student Devahuti Ramnarine. Music: Where the Hills Are - A Tiny Window.

  Helicoverpa zea
Quick Bug Clips

Sep 15, 2017

a late-stage corn earworm/tomato fruitworm larvae




Visitor Sightings

Report a sighting of this insect.

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Be sure to include a location.
  Bobbi Johnson

Location: Silver Bay, MN

On my sunflower!

corn earworm moth

  Bobbi Johnson

Location: Silver Bay, MN

Here's another one from the garden earlier.

corn earworm moth

  Babette Kis

Location: Barnes Prairie, Racine Co., WI

… on New England aster.

corn earworm moth







Created: 3/31/2023

Last Updated:

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