Superbug North American Invasion: Old World Bollworm

What has a voracious appetite, is resistant to broad-spectrum pesticides and could take a big bite out of the U.S. agricultural economy?

Helicoverpa armigera, or Old World Bollworm (OWB) appeared in 2014 in South and Central America, and it was expected to hitch-hike to the U.S. via Caribbean or Mexican produce import channels. On June 17, 2015, a male OWB moth was collected in a Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey (CAPS) pheromone field trap in Bradenton, Florida; the first recorded in the continental U.S.

H. armigera is especially worrisome to the agribusiness community since it eats a variety of U.S. crops that are produced in pest-favorable climates, including cotton, corn, flowers, and tomato. To complicate matters, it's nearly indistinguishable from its North American cousin, H. zea, commonly known as the corn earworm, and hybridized "superbug" offspring are possible.

As part of the University of Minnesota's MnDRIVE Global Food Ventures initiative, the University's International Science & Technology Practice & Policy (InSTePP) Center and Department of Entomology collaborated with a multinational research team to prepare a new distribution model that highlights the global invasion threat, taking into account climate suitability, irrigation patterns and the existence of suitable crop hosts. In addition to the recent confirmation of H. armigera in Brazil and Puerto Rico, they suggest the potential for rapid migration could warrant consideration of bio-security and control methods to slow progression, giving the industry time to build its defense.

"The Potential Distribution of Invading Helicoverpa armigera in North America: Is it Just a Matter of Time?” was published in the March 18, 2015 edition of PLOS ONE. Image by W. Billen, Pflanzenbeschaustelle, Weil am Rhein,

Featured on CBS News Online, May 13, 2015.