IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


25th November, 2023 Economy


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Picture Courtesy: www.downtoearth.org.in

Context: Prolonged warm temperatures in Assam caused a severe pest infestation by Mythimna separata caterpillars, damaging around 28,000 hectares of nearly mature paddy crops across 15 districts.


  • Continuous warm temperatures for prolonged periods led to a serious pest infestation in Assam, damaging approximately 28,000 hectares of paddy crops in at least 15 districts. The crops, nearing maturity and on the brink of harvest, were attacked by the Mythimna separata caterpillar, also known as the ear-head-cutting caterpillar, rice ear-cutting caterpillar, or armyworm.
  • This pest feeds on leaves and can sever panicles from the base of crop plants, often leaving fields resembling those grazed by cattle. During outbreaks, the pests multiply in large numbers, swarming from field to field like an army, causing extensive damage.
  • Although the presence of this pest has been reported in the state for several years, this is the first time the attack has occurred on such a massive scale, attributed in part to continuous warm temperatures for extended periods.
  • A 2017 study on Climate Change and Sustainable Agriculture emphasized that even small rises in global temperatures can reduce the lifecycle of insects, leading to higher pest populations, increased generations, extended geographical range and development season, and elevated risks of invasion by migrant pests and overwintering.
  • In India, home to 6.83 percent of the world's insect species, a one-degree Celsius rise in temperature could expand their presence about 200 kilometres northwards and 40 meters upward in terms of altitude.

About Mythimna separata caterpillars

Life Cycle

  • Egg Stage: The life cycle begins with adult moths laying eggs on host plants, often in clusters. The eggs are usually laid on the undersides of leaves and are small, round, and may have a whitish or yellowish color.
  • Larval (Caterpillar) Stage: Once the eggs hatch, the caterpillars emerge. The caterpillars go through several instars, which are stages between moults where they shed their exoskeleton to grow. As they grow, the caterpillars may change in color and develop characteristic markings.
  • Pupal Stage: After completing their larval stage, the caterpillars enter the pupal stage, during which they form cocoons or pupate in the soil. Inside the pupa, metamorphosis occurs, and the adult moth develops.
  • Adult Stage: The adult moths emerge from the pupae, completing the life cycle. Adult moths are typically nocturnal and are attracted to lights. 


  • Caterpillars: Mythimna separata caterpillars are typically brown or green. They have a segmented body with three pairs of true legs located at the front and several pairs of prolegs along the abdomen. The number of prolegs can vary depending on the instar.
  • Adult Moths: Adult moths are medium-sized with a wingspan of around 3 to 4 centimetres. They often have patterns and markings on their wings that can vary in colour and intensity.


  • Geographical Distribution: Mythimna separata is found in various parts of Asia. It is known to be a migratory species, and populations can move over large distances.
  • Crop Infestation: Caterpillars of Mythimna separata are considered agricultural pests. They infest a variety of crops, including rice, maize, sorghum, and other grasses.
  • Damage to Crops: The caterpillars are voracious feeders, causing damage by consuming leaves, stems, and reproductive structures of host plants. Large populations can lead to significant crop losses.

Control Measures

  • Cultural Practices: Farmers employ cultural practices such as field sanitation, crop rotation, and planting resistant varieties to manage infestations.
  • Biological Control: Natural enemies like predators (e.g., birds) and parasitoids (e.g. wasps that lay eggs on the caterpillars) are used as biological control measures.
  • Chemical Control: Insecticides are sometimes used to control Mythimna separata populations. However, the use of chemicals requires careful consideration to minimize environmental impact and avoid harm to non-target organisms.
  • Monitoring and Early Detection: Regular monitoring of fields for the presence of eggs, caterpillars, or other life stages is crucial for early detection. Early intervention can prevent widespread infestations and reduce the need for more drastic control measures.

It's essential to adapt control strategies to local conditions and follow integrated pest management (IPM) practices, which involve a combination of different control methods for sustainable and effective pest management. Local agricultural extension services often provide guidance based on specific regional conditions.


  • Mythimna separata is a serious pest of maize and other crops in Asia and Oceania that can cause significant yield losses and economic damage. It has a wide distribution and complex population dynamics that can lead to periodic outbreaks. It requires an integrated pest management approach that combines various methods to reduce its impact on agriculture and food security. 


Case Study:

Farmers in a region are facing a severe infestation of Mythimna separata, commonly known as the Oriental armyworm, which is causing substantial damage to their maize crops. The farmers are seeking effective pest control measures to mitigate the impact on their yields.

Q. Which of the following integrated pest management (IPM) practices would be most suitable for controlling Mythimna separata infestation in maize crops, considering both economic and environmental factors?

A) Sole reliance on chemical pesticides.

B) Introducing a natural predator specific to Mythimna separata.

C) Implementing crop rotation with non-host plants.

D) Using genetically modified (GM) maize varieties resistant to Mythimna separata.

Answer: C


A) Sole reliance on chemical pesticides: This option may have short-term effectiveness but can lead to pesticide resistance, harm non-target organisms, and pose environmental risks. It may also incur high costs for farmers.

B) Introducing a natural predator specific to Mythimna separata: This is a viable biological control method. Natural predators can help manage pest populations without the environmental concerns associated with chemical pesticides. However, the introduction of new species should be carefully evaluated to avoid unintended consequences.

C) Implementing crop rotation with non-host plants: Crop rotation is a cultural practice that disrupts the life cycle of pests and enhances soil health. This option is a sustainable and environmentally friendly approach, reducing the likelihood of recurring infestations.

D) Using genetically modified (GM) maize varieties resistant to Mythimna separata: While GM crops can offer resistance to specific pests, the long-term effects and broader environmental impact need consideration. It is a form of biological control, but potential ecological consequences should be monitored.

Correct Answer: C) Crop rotation is a sustainable and effective method that helps break the life cycle of pests, reduces the reliance on pesticides, and enhances soil fertility.