In a moist dark environment predatory nematodes kill almost all pest insects. Therefore, these microscopic, worm-like organisms are ideally suited to combat pests that attack plants in areas such as root zones, tree galleries, thatch of lawns, bark cracks, crown of plants and corn tassels. They will also work on insects that bore into wood, trees, and shrubs.
When applied in the vicinity of a susceptible insect, this biological insecticide hunts, penetrates, and kills them. Larvae, caterpillars, lawn grubs, and maggots, are most susceptible, but some adults may also be killed. University research shows the effectiveness of these organisms controlling a wide range of insect pests. Scientific evidence indicates that they are safe to people, pets, earthworms, plants and the environment; they are exempt from EPA registration as pesticides.
Commercial biological controls have been developed by producing these organisms in living hosts and selecting for the final product only highly active nematodes. In most cases, they are mobile, and if applied in adequate numbers in proximity of many pests, they reach and kill them (see Using Nematodes to Control Insects). More than 230 insect pests are susceptible, including; black vine weevils, cabbage root maggots, codling moth larvae, corn earworm, cucumber beetles, cutworms, flea beetles, flea larvae, fungus gnat larvae, Japanese beetle larvae, root maggots, sod webworms and wireworms.
Note: Some parasitic nematodes, called cruisers, are very active in the soil and search a relatively large area for a host, whereas others, called ambushers, are relatively sedentary and tend to sit and wait for a host to pass by in close proximity.
Beneficial nematodes are easily applied using no specialized equipment. Simply scatter over the infested area, then water. To control boring insects, prepare a water suspension, then inject or spray the solution into the burrows. Killing action begins 24 hours after application. The relative humidity in the habitat where the nematodes are applied should be high and this can be achieved by judicious use of irrigation. Optimally, nematodes should be applied at sunset to protect them against sunlight. Given adequate conditions of high relative humidity and protection from sunlight, beneficial nematodes persist in soil and concealed habitats for extended periods of time (approximately 18 months).
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Scanmask®, a product based on a selected strain of Steinernema feltiae will provide insect control in an area from 200 to 400 square feet. This refers to the area actually at risk or already infested by insects. Since infestations are rarely uniform, nematodes should be used as a “directed control measure” on areas already or at risk of being infested; a package of 7 million nematodes will be enough to control insects in total cultivated areas larger than 400 square feet.
Note: Insect parasitic nematodes are specific to soil-inhabiting pest insects and should not be confused with plant parasitic nematodes.
• Learn more about insect parasitic nematodes here.
• Visit the Society of Nematologists website.
• Steinernema feltiae – University of Florida Entomology
• Parasitic Nematodes Home Page – University of Nebraska, Lincoln