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Digital Guide to Moth Identification

990580.00 – 19580   Pectinophora gossypiella (Saunders, 1844)
             Pink Bollworm
Distribution Data for Pectinophora gossypiella
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Distribution: Native to Asia, however, has been detected in most cotton-growing regions of the world; declared eradicated in the US by the USDA in 2018.
and Size:
Completes four to six generations per year. Forewing length 6mm; Busck states the wing span as being between 15-20mm
Larva and
Host Plants:
Larvae feed on a variety of angiosperms, including many members of the Malvaceae. The larvae damage cotton bolls, making the plant susceptible to cotton diseases. Host records include Alcea rosea (Hollyhock), Cochlospermum regium (Yellow cotton), Corchorus olitorius (Jute), Gossypium arboreum (tree cotton), Gossypium barbadense (extra long staple cotton), Gossypium herbaceum (Levant cotton), Gossypium hirsutum (upland cotton, Mexican cotton), Gossypium thurberi (Arizona wild cotton), Gossypium tomentosum (Hawaiian cotton), Hibiscus spp. (Hibiscus), Medicago sativa (Alfalfa)

Early instar caterpillars are white with a brown head. The fourth instar larvae are pinkish-orange with darker pink bands across the middle of each segment. Busck (1917) describes the larva in detail. See "Similar Species" for characters to differentiate larvae of P. gossypiella from P. scutigera.
Similar Species:
  • Very similar to P. scutigera and adults can only be separated by genitalia. See P. scutigera genitalia here.
  • Larvae of P. gossypiella can be differentiated from P. scutigera using the crotchets on the abdominal prolegs, which are arranged in two transverse bands, and the anal crotchets, which are divided into two groups.Caterpillars of several other species have occasionally been intercepted in cotton bolls in the United States and have been repeatedly mistaken for the pink bollworm. These include:

    - Platynota idaeusalis
    - Platynota rostrana
    - Pyroderces rileyi

    The first two belong to the Tortricidae and the larvae are typically leaf-rollers on cotton, however, in the fall, they may enter open bolls for pupation. The last species, Pyroderces rileyi scavenge on decaying bolls injured from previous insect damage; they superficially resemble P. gossypiella.

    The character that distinguished Pyroderces rileyi from P. gossypiella is the “five-toothed mandible and the crotchets on the abdominal prolegs, which form a complete circle. P. gossypiella” has a four-toothed mandible and the crotchets on the abdominal prolegs are broken outwardly (uniordinal penellipse), rather than forming a complete circle. Busck (1917) provides a technical description of Pyroderces rileyi to allow for definite differentiation in all life stages from P. gossypiella.
  • Pinned specimens of related species. (Hint: select View by Region on the related species page.)
Taxonomic Notes: Pectinophora gossypiella: Busck (1917) wrote an extensive account of the life history of this moth see [pdf] for more information.
  • (1) Natural History Museum: HOSTS- A Database of the World’s Lepidopteran Hostplants website
  • (2) Pest Tracker: National Agricultural Pest Information System website
  • (3) Hughes, G.B. and W. Moore. 2011. Identification Tool to the Pink Bollworm and its Look-Alikes. Identification Technology Program, CPHST, PPQ, APHIS, USDA; Fort Collins, CO. website
  • (4) Busck, A. 1917. The Pink Bollworm, Pectinophora gossypiella [pdf]
  • (5) A bibliography of the Pink Bollworm Pectinophora gossypiella (Saunders) [pdf]
  • (6) Cotton Commodity-Based Pest Survey download pdf here
  • (7) Gilligan, T.M., and Passoa. 2014. LepIntercept- An identification resource for intercepted Lepidoptera larvae. USDA-APHIS-PPQ Identification Technology Program (ITP). Fort Collins, CO. Available here
Photographs are needed for this species.

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