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Diamondback moth (DBM)
Scientific name:
Plutella xylostella
Lepidoptera: Plutellidae
Local names:
Tanzania: Nondo mgongo-almazi (Kishwaheli); Kenya: Kimbaru twa (Kikamba), Kihuruta (Kikuyu), Kirinyo (Kimeru)
pest (insect/mite)
Host plants:
Cabbage/Kale, Brassicas  broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, rape, savoy, swede, turnip  
General Information on Pest and Damage
Geographical distribution
Geographical Distribution of the Diamondback moth in Africa (red marked)
Cabbage damaged by diamondback moth
© A. M. Varela, icipe
Throughout the world diamondback moth is considered the main insect pest of brassica crops, particularly cabbages, kales, broccoli and cauliflowers. The economic impact of diamondback moth is difficult to assess since it occurs in diverse small scale and large-scale production areas, but it has been known to completely destroy cabbage and kale crops. It is considered a major pest in all countries of the eastern and southern African region.

Host Range
Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflowers, and other brassica crops. In Kenya, diamondback moth has also been found feeding on peas.

Diamondback moth - Young caterpillars and their damage
© A.M. Varela, icipe
Newly hatched DBM caterpillars feed as leafminers inside the leaf tissue. Older caterpillars feed on all plant parts. They feed on the leaf tissue leaving the upper leaf surface intact. This type of damage is called "windowing", since it gives the appearance of translucent windows on the leaf. In cases of severe infestation entire leaves could be damaged. Caterpillars and pupae are found on damaged leaves. Older caterpillars are often found around the growing bud of young plants. Their feeding can deform the plant. DBM caterpillars also feed on stems and pods. Heavy damage results in the marketable parts contaminated with excrement, which makes the produce unsaleable.

Affected plant stages
Seedling stage, vegetative growing stage, flowering stage and fruiting stage.

Affected plant parts:
Fruits/pods, growing points, inflorescence, leaves and stems.

Diamondback moth caterpillars feeding on kales
© A. M. Varela, icipe
Biology and Ecology of the Diamondback Moth
Eggs of the diamondback moth
© F. Haas, icipe
Eggs are tiny (less than 1 mm), flat and oval in shape, and yellowish in colour. They are laid singly or in groups of 2 to 3 along the veins on the upper and lower leaf surfaces. The eggs hatch in 3 to 8 days depending on the environmental conditions.

Diamondback moth caterpillars feeding on kales
© A. M. Varela, icipe
Caterpillars are pale yellowish-green to green covered with fine, tiny scattered, erect hairs. Mature caterpillars are cigar-shaped and about 12 mm long. They have chewing mouthparts.

The caterpillars go through four instars and complete their development and pupate in 10 to 28 days. Diamondback moth (DBM) caterpillars are easily identified because they wriggle violently when disturbed, drop from the plant suspended by a silken thread and finally climb their way back up and continue feeding.

Diamondback moth pupal colour changes to brown before adult emergence. The developing moth can be seen through the cocoon. The pupa is 5 to 6 mm long.
© A. M. Varela, icipe
Pupae are 5 to 6 mm long. Pupae are initially light green and turn brown as the adult moths become visible through the cocoon. They are covered with a loosely spun net-like cocoon that is attached to the leaves, stems or seedpods of the host plant. Cocoons are about 9 cm long.

The moths emerge 3 to 15 days after pupation depending on the environmental conditions.

Diamondback moth adult on cabbage leaf. The adult is greyish brown with a nine mm long body and a wingspan of about 1.2 to 1.5 cm
© Alton N. Sparks, Jr., The University of Georgia,
The adult is a small greyish-brown moth, approximately 8 to 9 mm long with a wingspan of 12 to 15 mm. It has diamond-shaped markings on the back when the wings are folded, which gives the common name to this insect. The moth folds its wings over the abdomen in a tent-like manner when resting. The wing tips are fringed with long hairs. Adult females can lay an average of 160 eggs during their lifespan of about 16 days. Moths lay eggs at night. The greatest number of eggs is laid the first nights after emergence, egg laying continues for about 10 days. In the field, moths will fly up out of the plant canopy when disturbed.

Diamondback moth infestations tend to be serious in the dry months. Heavy rains may reduce populations dramatically, thus this pest is less likely to be a problem in wet years and during rainy seasons. Diamondback moth populations can increase rapidly at temperatures above 26°C.

© A. M. Varela. icipe

Pest and Disease Management:
Pest and disease Management: General illustration of the concept of infonet-biovision
This illustration shows the methods promoted on infonet-biovision. The methods shown at the top have a long-term effect, while methods shown at the bottom have a short-term effect. In organic farming systems, methods with a long-term effect are the basis of crop production and should be of preference. On the other hand methods with a short-term effect should be used in emergencies only. On infonet we do not promote synthetic pesticides.

Further below you find concrete preventive and curative methods against Diamondback moth (DBM).
Cultural practices

Inspect the crop regularly. Diamondback moth populations can increase rapidly in warm conditions. Therefore, it is important to scout for DBM moth regularly, at least twice a week. Diamondback moth caterpillars are detected by visual observations of the plant. (Adults can also be detected by the use of pheromone traps though they are not yet available in East Africa.)

Scouting should begin when the plants are young; the earlier the pest is discovered, the easier it is to control. Plants should be checked thoroughly. Growing points should be carefully examined. Caterpillars that are inside the cabbage head are difficult to detect unless outer leaves are pulled back. When scouting, it is important to record presence of parasitic wasps and parasitised caterpillars. Please also refer to section on natural enemies under Biological Pest Control further down on this page.

Examples of economic thresholds
Economic thresholds for the diamondback moth have been developed in several countries. For example, in small cabbage plots (0.25 ha) in Honduras, it is recommended to sample at least 60 plants and the action threshold is one caterpillar per plant. Broccoli and cauliflower at the vegetative stage can support 30% defoliation. At harvest time, an infestation level of one caterpillar per head is the action threshold (Rueda and Shelton, 1995). In the Midwest (USA), the treatment threshold for caterpillars (including DBM) attacking cabbage is given as 10% of infested pants in the seedbed, 30% infested plants from transplant to cupping stage, 20% infested plants from cupping to early heading, and 10% infested plants at early heading to mature head stages. For processing cabbage, which will be trimmed and shredded, more injury is tolerable; treatment is advised at 75% infestation. The treatment thresholds for broccoli and cauliflower are: 10% plant infestation in the seedbed, 50% plant infestation from transplant to first flower, and 10% infestation from first flower to maturity (Foster and Flood, 1995).

These thresholds are given as examples. However, note that economic thresholds depend on many factors (crop stage, crop age, and economic and climatic conditions) and cannot be adopted without taking into consideration local conditions.

  • Start with a healthy crop. Place seedling beds away from production fields to minimise attack by the diamondback moth. Transplant only healthy seedlings, which are free of eggs, caterpillars and pupae of the diamondback moth and other pests.
  • Remove and destroy or plough down crop residues in seedling beds and production fields.
These practices will prevent build-up of the diamondback moth and migration to nearby fields.

Pest avoidance
Planting cabbage at the beginning of the rainy season can help to avoid problems with the diamondback moth. Heavy rains reduce flight activity and mating of moths and wash off caterpillars and pupae from plant leaves. However, in the rainy season the plants will be more prone to diseases such as black rot, downy mildew and ring spot.

Crop rotation
Crop rotation can be effective in controlling the diamondback moth in semi-arid environments as there are only very few wild host plants. A significant reduction in the numbers of caterpillars can be achieved by having a break of 6 weeks or more where no brassica crops (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower among others) are grown at all.

It is important that all farmers in a locality, or at least close neighbours, follow crop rotation simultaneously. This break will disrupt the pest's breeding cycle. Therefore, brassica crops planted after this break will be safe from the pest for sometime. However, this does not work in the highlands where large numbers of wild host plants are present in the surroundings of the fields throughout the year.

Intercropping, trap cropping
Planting rows of tomatoes alternately with rows of cabbage is reported to reduce damage but it does not prevent the attack completely. Kenya Institute of Organic Farming recommends this method as effective. In addition, cabbages would repel the tomato bollworm, making this practice serve a double purpose.

Intercropping with chillies is said to repel diamondback moth adults (Dobson et al, 2002).

Trap crops such as mustard and rape can also be useful to reduce diamondback moth attacks. Fifteen rows of cabbage followed by mustard rows have been shown to be most effective (HDRA, 2000). Bold seeded Indian mustard could also be sown densely all around the area 10 days before the crucifers are planted. The plants attract up to 80% diamondback moths (IPM Bulletin of Pest Management, Undated). However, trap crops should be frequently monitored so as to control this pest before it can move to the main crop. Once the trap crop is infested it can be ploughed in or removed. Unattended trap crops can generate large populations of diamondback moth.

Care is needed to manage intercrops in order to use them as part of a control practice (Shelton et al., 1995).

As with rain, frequent overhead irrigation disrupts moth activities and washes off caterpillars from the plants. However, use of sprinkler irrigation may lead to increase of diseases such as black rot and downy mildew.

Habitat Management

Habitat management
Managing the habitat or the way a crop is grown helps to prevent or reduce pest and disease. Mix cropping brassica crops with some other crops or plants (intercropping, trap crops, strip cropping) has been shown to reduce infestation by the diamondback moth. The plants to be grown together with the brassica crops need to be carefully selected. Oniona and tomatoes can be intercropped with brassicas.

Maintaining natural surroundings, including trees and shrubs help to conserve natural enemies by providing shelter and plenty of breeding places for them. Maintaining strips of local flowering plants in the vicinity of the brassica crops is useful for beneficial insects. Trap cropping with flowering mustard can also augment the number of beneficial insects in the trap crop and the neighbouring crops.

Biological pest control

Natural enemies
Natural enemies (local and imported) can help to keep the pest at acceptable levels if they are conserved and their activity encouraged. Habitat management and avoidance of broad-spectrum insecticides early in the season, when the diamondback moth is present in low numbers may preserve natural enemies that can help keep diamondback moth and aphid populations under control later in the season.

Many natural enemies prey on the diamondback moth at different stages of its life cycle. Birds and spiders feed on moths; ants, lacewings, wasps, and parasitic wasps among others attack the caterpillars.

Numerous parasitic wasps attack diamondback moth. The most common are wasps of the genus Cotesia, Diadegma, Diadromus and Oomyzus. These wasps are also known from Africa and some are reported to effect excellent control of the diamondback moth elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the locally existing wasps do not provide satisfactory control of the diamondback moth in eastern and southern Africa. For this reason, two species of wasps (Diadegma semiclausum and Cotesia plutellae) were imported and released by ICIPE in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The former has provided almost complete control of this pest in highland growing conditions while the second is specific to mid-altitude, semi-arid areas where it also provides good control.

Diamondback moth parasitoid (Diadegma semiclausum). This parasitic wasp was introduced and is now established in East Africa highlands.
© A. M. Varela, icipe
Diamondback moth parasitoid (Cotesia plutellae )
© A. M. Varela, icipe
Coccon of the parasitic wasp Diadegma semiclausum. The wasp larva spins a brown, rounded cocoon within the silk cocoon of diamondback moth.
© A. M. Varela, icipe

It is important to distinguish parasitised diamondback moth caterpillars from healthy ones. Caterpillars parasitised by Diadegma semiclausum can be distinguished at the pupal stage. The larva of this parasitic wasp eats the diamondback moth caterpillar from inside and pupates inside the diamondback moth cocoon. The pupa of the parasitic wasps appears as a round elongated brown capsule within the diamondback moth cocoon. In contrast, it is possible to see the developing moth through the cocoon of a healthy pupa.

The larva of Cotesia plutellae feeds inside the diamondback moth caterpillar and emerges from the caterpillar to pupate in a silky cocoon on the leaves near the dead diamondback moth caterpillar.
Diamondback moth pupal colour changes to brown before adult emergence. The developing moth can be seen through the cocoon. The pupa is 5 to 6 mm long.
© A. M. Varela, icipe
Diamondback moth caterpillar parasitised by Cotesia plutella. Note silky cocoon of the parasitoid near dead DBM caterpillar. The wasp larva emerges from the caterpillar and spins a white cocoon from which the adult wasp emerges.
© A. M. Varela, icipe

Pathogens including fungi, bacteria and viruses are naturally found causing diseases to the diamondback moth in the field. However, they generally occur during rainy seasons when problems with this pest are not very pronounced. There are some commercially available pesticides based on disease-causing microorganisms (microbiological pesticides). A well-known example is Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

For more information on natural enemies click here.
Biopesticides and physical methods

Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis)
Bacillus thuringiensis var. aizawai and Bt var. kurstaki are very effective in controlling infestations of the diamondback moth. Bt var. kurstaki is widely used at a weekly interval and a rate of 0.5/ha. This type of strategy provides effective control of this pest. However, continuous use of Bt can induce development of resistance. Bt kills the diamond back moth and does not harm beneficial insects. Bt insecticides should be applied when the newly hatch caterpillars appear. Sprays may need to be applied at intervals of 5 to 7 days when populations are high. Because Bt insecticides are UV-degraded treat crops in the late afternoon. For more information on Bt click here.

Farmers experience
Farmers in some countries produce their own homemade biopesticides by collecting diseased diamondback moth caterpillars (fat and white or yellowish or with fluffy mould on them), crushing them and mixing them with water in a blender. Large tissue clumps are filtered out and the liquid is sprayed onto the crop (Dobson et al, 2002).

Neem (Azadirachta indica)
Neem-based products give a good control of the diamondback moth and are relatively harmless to natural enemies and non-toxic to warm-blooded animals. Since the action of neem is relatively slow, caterpillars may survive for a few days after application, but their growth and feeding is inhibited and they do not cause further damage to the crop. For more information on Neem click here.
Information Source Links
  • CABI. (2004). Crop Protection Compendium, 2004 Edition. © CAB International Publishing.Wallingford,
  • Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development. Global Crop Pests. Rueda and Shelton. Diamondback moth (DBM).
  • Foster R. and Flood, B. (1995). Vegetable insect management with emphasis on the Midwest. Purdue Research Foundation. Meister Publishing Company, Willoughby, Ohio. ISBN: 0-931682-52-2.
  • HDRA (2000). Diamondback moth, Plutella xylostella. Pest Control No. TPC3. Tropical Advisory Service, HDRA,UK.
  • Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, UK (2002): Integrated Vegetable Pest Management. Safe and sustainable protection of small-scale brassicas and tomatoes. By Hans Dobson, Jerry Cooper, Walter Manyangarirwa, Joshua Karuma and Wilfred Chiimba. ISBN: 0-85954-536-9.
  • Oisat. Organisation for Non-Chemical Pest Management in the Tropics.
  • Rushtapakornchai, W., Vattanatangum, A. and Saito, T. (1992). Development and implementation of sticky trap for diamondback moth control in Thailand. In: Talekar NS, ed. Diamondback Moth and Other Crucifer Pests: Proceedings of the Second International Workshop. Shanhua, Taiwan: Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center, 523-528.
  • Shelton, A.M., Turner, A., Giga, D. Wilkinson, P., Zitzanza, E. and Utete, D. (1995). Diamondback moth. Zimbabwe Horticultural Crops Pest Management. NYSAES, Geneva NY. 2pp.
  • Talekar, N. S. and Shelton, A. M. (1993). Biology, Ecology and Management of Diamondback Moth. Annual Review of Entomology, Volume 38.
Diamondback moth caterpillars feeding on kales
Crop rotation
Crop rotation is the practice of growing different crops in succession on the same land.
Brassicaceae or Cruciferae, also known as the crucifers, the mustard family or cabbage family is a family of flowering plants. The name Brassicaceae is derived from the included genus Brassica. The family contains well-known species such as Brassica oleracea (cabbage, cauliflower...), Brassica rapa (turnip, Chinese cabbage...), Brassica napus (rapeseed...) and many more.
Brassicaceae or Cruciferae, also known as the crucifers, the mustard family or cabbage family is a family of flowering plants. The name Brassicaceae is derived from the included genus Brassica. The family contains well-known species such as Brassica oleracea (cabbage, cauliflower...), Brassica rapa (turnip, Chinese cabbage...), Brassica napus (rapeseed...) and many more.
Manufactured by chemical and industrial processes. May include products not found in nature, or simulation of products from natural sources (but not extracted from natural raw materials).
A group of flowers growing from a common stem, often in a characteristic arrangement. Also called flower cluster.
A combination of chemical and biological control methods, based on the concept of economic tresholds. Pest management in organic farming uses many biological control methods developed as par of IPM.
The area over which an animal species naturally exists; the area where a species occurs. Also used to indicate types of habitats e.g. seashore, riverbank, woodland, grassland.
Refers to the farming system and products described in the IFOAM standard and not to 'organic chemistry'.
Occurring worldwide, most fungi are largely invisible to the naked eye, living for the most part in soil, dead matter, and as symbionts of plants, animals, or other fungi. They perform an essential role in all ecosystems in decomposing organic matter and are indispensable in nutrient cycling and exchange. Some fungi become noticeable when fruiting, either as mushrooms or molds.

Fungi are responsible for a range of serious plant diseases such as blight, grey mould, bunts, powdery mildew, and downy mildew. Crops of all kinds often suffer heavy losses.

Fungal plant diseases are usually managed with applications of chemical fungicides or heavy metals. In some cases, conventional breeding has provided fungus resistantcultivars.

Besides combatting yield losses, preventing fungal infection keeps crops free of toxic compounds produced by some pathogenic fungi. These compounds, often referred to as mycotoxins, can affect affect the immune system and disrupt hormone balances. Some mycotoxins are carcinogenic.
is a selection of animals to reproduce and/or to further develop desired characteristics in succeeding generations.
Cruciferae or Brassicaceae, also known as the crucifers, the mustard family or cabbage family is a family of flowering plants. The name Brassicaceae is derived from the included genus Brassica. The family contains well-known species such as Brassica oleracea (cabbage, cauliflower...), Brassica rapa (turnip, Chinese cabbage...), Brassica napus (rapeseed...) and many more.
Animal that attacks and feeds on other animals, such as an insect (e.g. ladybird beetle), bird or spider feeding on pest insects.
Trap crops
Crops planted to attract a pest/pests and then destroyed together with the pest/pests.
Ability of a living organism not to get affected by a disease or pest; or of a pest not to be affected by a pesticide.

Pesticide Resistance is the ability of a life form to develop a tolerance to a pesticide. Pests (weeds, insects, mites, diseases, etc.) that become resistant to a pesticide will not be affected by the pesticide. When pests are resistant, it is more difficult to control the pest. Therefore, it is important to try to prevent pesticide resistance.
Biopesticides include microbiological pesticides (based on fungi, bacteria and virus) but also botanicals (plant extracts), since they are extracted from or are products of living organisms (plants)
Intercropping is the planting of two or more crops in the same field, usually planted in alternating rows or sections.
Growth stages.
A microorganism is an organism that is microscopic (usually too small to be seen by the naked human eye). Microorganisms are very diverse. They include bacteria, fungi, archaea, and protists; microscopic plants (called green algae); and animals such as plankton, the planarian and the amoeba. Some also include viruses, but others consider these as non-living.
Substance emitted by female insects in order to attract males. Synthetic pheromones are used to disorient male insects and thus to prevent mating.