Grape Root Borer: Review and Status
W. C. Adlerz
IFAS Agricultural Research and Education Center
Leesburg, Florida 32748
August 14, 1984
In 1854 T. W. Harris reported the grape root borer (GRB),
Vitis polistiformis (Harris), was injurious on the roots of
grapevines in North Carolina (Harris 1854). The GRB is generally
distributed in the eastern United States below a line from
Vermont to Minnesota (Brooks 1907, Pollet 1975). There is one
report of GRB from SE Canada (Englehardt 1946). Major damage to
grapevines has been reported from many eastern states including
Georgia (Dutcher and All 1976) and Florida (Adlerz and Hopkins
1981), but not from the major grape areas of the Northeast, in
New York and Ohio (Jubb 1982).
The GRB is a day flying clear-winged moth of the family
Sessiidae that behaviorally and morphologically mimics the paper
wasp of the genus Polistes (Johnson et al. 1981). Adults emerge
in the morning. Mating commences after emergence and continues
through the afternoon (Sarai 1972, Dutcher and All 1978a). Egg
laying can begin immediately after mating (Clark and Enns 1964)
and often does (Sarai 1972, Pollet 1975) but was also found to
begin on the day following copulation (Brooks 1907, Dutcher and
All 1978a). Length of adult life is 10-14 days during which
females lay an average of 350 to 400 eggs (Brooks 1907, Attwood
and Wylie 1963, Dutcher and All 1978a). Eggs hatch in 13-22 days
(Clark and Enns 1964, Sarai 1972, Dutcher and All, 1978a).
Newly hatched larvae penetrate the soil and apparently
establish on the first root encountered (Clark and Enns 1964,
Pollet 1975, Dutcher and All 1979b). Larvae feed on the roots
for 22 months (Attwood and Wylie 1963). Pupation takes place
within the top 2 inches of soil (Dutcher and All 1979b) and lasts
26-45 days (Clark and Enns 1964, Sarai 1972, Dutcher and All
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Leesburg AREC Research Report (LBG 84-4)
250 copies I.F.A.S. Univ. of Fiorida
The GRB attacks both bunch and muscadine grapes (Sorensen
1975, Adlerz and Hopkins 1981). In Florida this includes
grapevine cultivars developed from various bunch grape cultivar x
native grape crosses grown on their own roots, on 'Tampa', 'Dog
Ridge' or 'Lake Emerald' rootstocks, and muscadine grapevines. At
Leesburg, a measure of muscadine varietal susceptibility was
obtained through counts of cast pupal skins under muscadine vines
in a replicated cultivar trial (Table 1). Similar observations
made in a commercial planting near Lakeland, FL showed that
muscadine grapevines and bunch grapevines on various rootstocks
are affected by GRB (Table 1). Infestation of given varieties
was quite variable from one year to another in the same planting.
'Higgins', 'Hunt', and 'Jumbo' are examples of varieties usually
Larval feeding in the roots causes discolored leaves and
wilting (Sorensen 1975), reduced cane and berry yield, and
possibly death of vines. In 'Concord' grapevines grown commercially
in Georgia a 21% increase in trunk base girdling by larval feeding
was associated with a 90% reduction in total (berry + cane) yield,
and the accumulation of 42 or more larval feeding sites in the root
system led to possible death of vines. A single larva feeding on
the trunk base was associated with a 47% reduction in yield
(Dutcher and All 1979a).
GRB larvae may girdle (Clark and Enns 1964) or completely
consume (Sarai 1972, Dutcher and All 1979a) roots depending on
size. Sizes of roots and larvae are correlated (Dutcher and All
1978b) so that most mature larvae will be found near the base of
the plant. Up to 90% of pupae may be found in a 1-foot radius of
the trunk base (Attwood and Wylie 1963, Clark and Enns 1964,
Dutcher and All 1978b).
1). Biological. Organisms consistently associated with GRB
larvae have been the fungi Beauveria bassiana (Balsamo) Vuillamon
and Mettarrhizium anisopliae (Metchnikoff) Sarokin (Clark and Enns
1964, Sarai 1972), a predatory nematode, Neoplectana carpocapsae
(Weiser), and a braconid wasp parasite, Bracon caulicola (Gahan)
(Sarai 1972, Dutcher and All 1978c). The feeding sites of GRB
larvae are not often invaded by fungi or N. carpocapsae, however,
and B. caulicola penetrates only to 2 inches in the soil (Dutcher
and All 1978c). GRB larvae are found up to 24 inches deep in the
soil (Brooks 1907). N. carpocapsae can be successfully reared, but
inundative releases failed to result in GRB larval control (All
et al. 1981). A more complete list of GRB natural enemies has been
Table 1. Occurrence of grape root borers on various grapes in the
laboratory research planting and a commercial vineyard:
cast pupal skins at the soil surface.
Pupal skins per vine
1979 1980 1981 1980 1981
Liberty (Lake Emerald) 0.2 0.5
Stover (Lake Emerald) 0.4 1.0
Blue Lake 0.4 1.7
Lake Emerald 0.8 0.4
Norris (Lake Emerald) 1.2 1.0
L4-33 (Dog Ridge) 2.3
Southland 0.0 0.5 0.4 0.6 0.4
Magnolia 0.0 0.2 0.0 0.6 0.5
Thomas 0.2 0.3 0.6
Redgate 0.2 0.8 1.0
Chief 0.2 0.0 0.5 0.3
Regale 0.3 0.0 0.0
Magoon 0.5 0.2 0.3
Tarheel 0.7 0.3 0.6 1.4 0.4
Welder 0.8 0.0 0.6 2.6 0.6
Watergate 0.8 0.0 0.0
Fry 0.8 0.3 0.5 2.6 1.2
Creek 0.8 0.0 0.3
Dixie 1.2 0.3 0.8 0.4 2.2
Dearing 1.2 0.3 0.0
Jumbo 1.3 0.0 1.3 4.0 3.6
US42-12B 2.2 0.2 0.5
Cowart 2.2 0.0 0.6
Noble 2.3 0.3 0.8
Hunt 2.3 0.6 1.4 3.4 1.2
Sugargate 3.3 0.3 2.6
Carlos 3.6 0.2 0.0 2.5 1.7
Higgins 4.0 0.0 0.7 2.7 2.3
Average from 6 single-plant replications.
2Average from 5 to 15 plants of each variety.
Average from 5 to 15 plants of each variety.
published (Dutcher and All 1978c). Experiments to determine
effectiveness of pheromones to disrupt mating communication are in
progress (Johnson et al. 1981).
2). Cultural. Mounding soil over pupae to prevent moth
emergence is a technique recommended in South Carolina (Pollet 19'5).
Mounds 10-12 inches deep are made at the base of the vine when
pupation is 90% complete. Vineyards damaged by GRB were revitalized
after 2 years of mounding. Adult emergence may be effectively
prevented by soil ridges about 5 inches deep (Sarai 1969). Where
vineyard soils were ridged to 4-5 inches under vines, moth capture
was reduced nearly 90% and where the vineyard soils were barred
off and ridged, moth capture was reduced 100% (Wylie 1972).
Using the same principle that makes mounding effective i.e.
mounding to contain emerging adults, Attwood and Wylie (1963)
applied 2-foot and 4-foot wide plastic mulch strips under vines
and reduced adult emergence 90% and 100%, respectively.
Factors that may contribute to cultural control of GRB are
resistant rootstocks (Wylie 1972) and clean cultivation (weed
control) to create a hostile environment for the larva 1 stage.
3). Chemical. All and Dutcher (1977) attempted to control
GRB larval infestations in the soil with chemicals and found that all
surface applied insecticides including drenches, and all contact
insecticides injected into the soil were ineffective. Fumigants
applied with a chisel were effective, but it was not possible to
position chisels close enough to the vines to fumigate mature larvae.
Most effective was the pressure flow injection of fumigants, especially
ethylene dichloride (EDC) at the root zone.
In 1982 we attempted control of established larval infestations
in bunch and muscadine grapes in a commercial vineyard with EDC
(Di Chlor Mulsion of Woolfolk Chemical Co.) applied with a pressure
flow injection device and chlorpyrifos (Lorsban) applied as a
drench. In the muscadine grape test EDC and Lorsban were applied
to 'Fry' and 'Jumbo' plants. EDC was pressure injected in 1-gallon
of water per vine in 44 probes 6-inches deep. The treated area was
a 3-foot diameter circle. Lorsban was applied at 0.011 pounds
active ingredient per vine in 2 gallons of water per vine contained
at the base of each vine with a garden edging barrier 2 feet in
diameter. Injections were made May 6, 1982 and drenches were
applied May 11, 1982. Treatments were evaluated by counting pupal
skins at the soil surface from September 9 to October 21, 1982.
Results in Table 2. Lorsban drench and EDC fumigation were both
In the bunch grape test, the same methods'and rates of
application and the same means of evaluation were used. Results
are in Table 3. Control with EDC was very effective, but control
with Lorsban drench was not. Failure to control larvae on bunch
grapes was perhaps due to the deeper root system as compared with
muscadines and the failure of a 2-gallon drendh to reach the larvae.
Table 2. Grape root borer pupae emerged from 'Fry' and 'Jumbo'
muscadine grapevines treated with injected ethylene dichloride
soil fumigant (EDC) and chlorpyrifoc (Loraban) soil drench,
Lakeland, FL Sept 9 Oct 21, 1982.
Numbers of pupae/numbers of plants
Treatment1 Fry Jumbo Totals
EDC 1/4 pint/plant 0/4 0/3 0/7
Untreated 3/4 2/3 4/7
EDC 1/2 pint/plant 0/4 0/3 0/7
Untreated 2/4 7/3 9/7
Lorsban 0.011 lb. ai/plant2 0/4 1/3 1/7
Untreated 6/4 4/3 10/7
Untreated 3/6 15/6 18/12
Total treated 0/12 1/9
Total untreated 14/18 28/18
EDC applied May 6, Lorsban applied May 11, 1982.
2Lorsban 4E @ 10.5 ml per 2 gallons of water per plant.
Table 3. Grape root borer pupae emerged from bunch grape plants
of several varieties treated with ethylene dichloride soil
fumigant (EDC) and chlorpyrifos (Lorsban) soil drench,
Lakeland, FL Sept 9 Oct 21, 1984.
Pupae emerged/12 plants
Treatment/Rowl 9/9 9/16 9/23 9/30 10/7 10/14 10/21 Total
EDC 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1/4 pint/ 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
plant 5 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
6 0 1 0 4 0 0 0 5
Lorsban 3 0 5 3 5 7 0 0 20
0.011 Ib2 4 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 3
ai/plant 5 0 0 7 8 0 0 0 15
6 0 0 2 5 3 0 0 10
1EDC applied May 6, Lorsban applied May 11, 1982.
2Lorsban 4E @ 10.5 ml per 2 gallons of water per plant.
Treatment of established infestations with contact insecticides
shows promise in Florida soils. Experiments with contact
insecticides applied with a pressure injection device are in
progress. Di Chlor mulsion formulation of EDC is no longer available.
The second part of a possible chemical control program is
application of a barrier spray to the soil to kill newly hatched
larvae before they burrow into the soil to infest the-roots. For
this, Lorsban can be applied according to label direction.
Application must be made just before hatching of GRB eggs. In most
states, GRB moths begin to fly in June or July (Figure 1). Peak
flights are in July and August. In central Florida, GRB moths fly
from early September to early November. Peak flights have been
recorded from the last week in September to the second week in
October, but have usually been the first week in October. Since
only one application of Lorsban is allowed under the existing label,
in Florida this application should be made in late September to
Females lay eggs over a period of weeks, but oviposition may
be 51% complete within 24 hours of mating (Dutcher and All 1978a).
Barrier sprays should be made by the time of peak occurrence of pupae
at the soil surface.
At this writing (August 1984) we know that GRB females fly in
the September November period from Alachua County south. The
timing of moth flights in vineyards west of Alachua county has not
JULY AUGUST SEPTEMBER OCTOBER
A ---P -Missouri 1967
-W. Virginia 1967
P S. Carolina 1975
A72= Arkansas 1972, A79 = Arkansas 1979, G74= Georgia 1974, La80= Lakeland, Fl. 1980. La81= Lakeland 1981.
Le80= Leesburg, Fl. 1980, Le81= Leesburg, FI. 1981, M61= Missouri 1961, M62= Missouri 1962,
M68= Missouri 1968, NC74= North Carolina. 1974
Ps peak occurrence
Cumulative percentage of pupal or adult occurrence at various locations in the eastern
United States. Adapted from data by: Adlerz, unpublished, Florida; Brooks 1907, W.
Virginia; Clark and Enns 1964, Missouri; Dutcher and All 1979b, Georgia; Johnson 1979,
Arkansas; Pollet 1975, S. Carolina; Sarai 1972, Missouri; Sorensen 1975, N. Carolina;
Wylie 1972, Arkansas.
Adlerz, W. C. and D. L. Hopkins. 1981. Grape insects and
diseases in Florida. Proc. Fla. State Hort. Soc. 94:331-336.
All, J. N. and J. D. Dutcher. 1977. Subsurface and surface
insecticide applications to control subterranean larvae of
the grape root borer. J. Econ. Entomol. 70:649-652.
All, J. N., M. C. Saunders, J. D. Dutcher, and A. M. Jarid. 1981.
Susceptibility of grape root borer larvae, Vitacea
polistiformis (Lepidoptera:Sessiidae) to Neoplectana
carpocapsae (Nematoda:Rhabditida): potential of host
Kairomones for enhancement of nematode activity in grape
vineyards. p. 9-14 In Misc. Publ. ESA 12:1-98.
Attwood, V. G. and W. D. Wylie. 1963. Grape root borer threatens
vineyards. Ark. Farm Res. 12(3):6.
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Clark, G. H. and W. R. Enns. 1964. Life history studies of the
grape root borer (Lepidoptera:Ageridae) in Missouri. J.
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(Harris). J. Georgia Entomol. Soc. 13:59-63.
1978b. Models of the distribution of subterranean stages
of Vitacea polistiformis in Concord grape vineyards.
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1978c. Survivorship of the grape root borer in commercial
grape vineyards with contrasting cultural practices.
J. Econ. Entomol. 71:751-754.
1979a. Damage impact of larval feeding by the grape root
borer in a commercial Concord grape vineyard. J. Econ.
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Concord grape vineyards. Univ. Ga. Agr. Exp. Sta. Res.
Bull. 232, 18 pp.
Englehardt, G. P. 1946. The North American clear-winged moths
of the family Ageriidae. USNM Bull. 190:151-154
Harris, T. W. 1854. Note upon the insects injurious to the
roots of the cultivated grape vines in North Carolina. p. 6-7.
In: Raleigh Register, Raleigh, NC.
Johnson, D. T. 1979. Progress report on grape insect research.
Proc. Ark. State Hort. Soc. 100:87-90.
Johnson, D. T., R. L. Mages, and P. A. Gray. 1981. Status of
grape root borer (Lepidoptera:Sessiidae) management and
feasibility of control by disruption of mating communication.
pp. 1-7. In Miscellaneous Publ. of ESA 12:1-98.
Jubb, Gerald L. Jr. 1982. Occurrence of the grape root borer,
Vitacea polistiformis, in Pennsylvanla. Molsheimer Entornol.
Ser. 22, pp. 20-24.
Pollet, D. K. 1975. The grape root borer in South Carolina.
Clemson Univ. Ext. Serv. Circ. 550. 7 pp.
Sarai, D. S. 1969. Effect of burial of grape root borer pupae
on adult emergence. J. Econ. Entomol. 62:1507-1508.
Sarai, D. S. 1972. Seasonal history and effect of soil moisture
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