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Spruce Budworm

Spruce Budworm
Scientific Classification
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Tortricidae

Spruce Budworm is a group of closely related insects in the genus Choristoneura. They are serious pests of conifers, especially Western Spruce Budworm, Choristoneura occidentalis and its eastern counterpart Choristoneura fumiferana. There are nearly a dozen Choristoneura species, subspecies, or forms, with a complexity of variation among populations found throughout much of the United States and Canada.

Table of contents
1 Western Spruce Budworm
2 Eastern Spruce Budworm
3 Controls

Western Spruce Budworm

Western Spruce Budworm is the most widely distributed and destructive defoliator of coniferous forests in Western North America. The first recorded outbreak was in 1909 on the southeastern part of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Since that year, infestations of this and related species frequently have been reported in western Canada.

This budworm was first reported in the United States in 1914 in Oregon; however, it was not recognized as a serious threat to western coniferous forests. Aerial spraying apparently terminated some smaller epidemics in the southern and central Rockies; others subsided naturally. It then appear dormant in US forests until 1922, when two outbreaks were reported near Priest Lake in northern Idaho.

Subsequent widespread and destructive outbreaks in the Rocky Mountains and in the Pacific Northwest have caused topkilling, serious economic losses in tree growth, and some tree mortality primarily in regeneration, sapling, and pole-sized trees.

No typical pattern or trend in Western Spruce Budworm epidemics has been apparent; most of the early epidemics lasted for a few years and then subsided naturally; others persisted longer, at times without spreading over large areas. An epidemic in the northern Rocky Mountains, which began in 1949, has now persisted for more than 30 years, in spite of repeated insecticidal treatment between 1952 and 1966 of more than 6,000,000 acres (2,430,000 ha)


Adult moths are about 1/2 inch (12.7 mm) long and have a wing-spread of 7/8 to 11/8 inches (22 to 28mm). Moths of both sexes are similar in appearance, although the females are a bit more robust than males. Both sexes fly. The gray- or orange-brown forewings are banded or streaked, and each usually has a conspicuous white dot on the wing margin. Eggs are oval, light green, and about 3/64 inch (1.2mm) long and overlap like shingles.

Larvae develop through six stages. Newly hatched larvae are yellow-green with brown heads. In the next three stages, larvae have black heads and collars and orange- or cinnamon-brown bodies. In the fifth stage, larvae have reddish-brown heads marked with black triangles, black collars, and pale olive-brown bodies marked with small whitish spots. Mature larvae are 1 to 11/4 inches (25 to 32 mm) long, with tan or light chestnut-brown heads and collars and olive- or reddish-brown bodies with large ivory-colored areas.

Pupae are 1/2 to 5/8 inch (13 to 16 mm) long, broad at the head end, and narrower toward the tail. They are brownish-yellow or brownish-green at first, and later turn reddish-brown.

Life History

Throughout most of its range, the Western Spruce Budworm completes one cycle of development from egg to adult within 12 months. Moths emerge from pupal cases usually in late July or early August; in the southern Rockies, adults often begin emerging in early July.

The adults mate, and within 7 to 10 days, the female deposits her eggs and then dies. Each female deposits approximately 150 eggs, usually on the underside of conifer needles. Eggs are laid in one to three-row masses containing a few to 130 eggs, with an average of 25 to 40 eggs per mass.

Larvae hatch from eggs in about 10 days. Larvae do not feed, but seek sheltered places under bark scales or in and among lichens on the tree bole or limbs. Here, they spin silken tents in which they remain inactive through the winter.

In early May to late June, larvae leave their hibernacula to search forfood. They first mine or tunnel into year-old needles, closed buds, or newly developing vegetative or reproductive buds.

New foliage, which is normally the preferred food, is usually entirely consumed or destroyed before larvae will feed on older needles. Larvae become full grown usually in early July about 30 to 40 days after leaving their overwintering sites.

Larvae pupate inwebs of silk they have spun either at the last feeding site or elsewhere on the tree. The pupal stage usually lasts about 10 days.

Eastern Spruce Budworm

The eastern version of the Spruce Budworm is Choristoneura fumiferana, which is one of the most destructive native insects in the northern spruce and fir forests of the Eastern United States and Canada. Periodic outbreaks of the spruce budworm are a part of the natural cycle of events associated with the maturing of balsam fir. Particularly major infestations occur every 40-60 years.

The first recorded outbreak of the spruce budworm in the United States occurred in Maine about 1807. Another outbreak followed in 1878. Since 1909 there have been waves of budworm out breaks throughout the Eastern United States and Canada. The States most often affected are Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. These outbreaks have resulted in the loss of millions of cords of spruce and fir.

Balsam Fir is the species most severely damaged by the budworm in the Eastern United States. White, Red, and Black Spruce are suitable host trees and some feeding may occur on tamarack, pine, and hemlock. Spruce mixed with Balsam Fir is more likely to suffer budworm damage than spruce in pure stands.

The range of the spruce bud-worm includes the Northern States east of Montana but the budworm is found wherever host species grow).

The budworm also seriously affects regeneration. Young trees are especially vulnerable when growing beneath mature trees, since larvae disperse from the overstory and feed on the small trees below. Coniferous seedlings have relatively few needles and shoots and can be seriously deformed or killed by only a few larvae.


Budworm populations are usually regulated naturally by combinations of several natural factors such as insect parasites, vertebrate and invertebrate predators, and adverse weather conditions. During prolonged outbreaks when stands become heavily defoliated, starvation can be an important mortality factor in regulating populations.

This species is a favoured food of the Cape May Warbler, which is therefore closely associated with its host plant, Black Spruce. This bird, and theTennessee and Bay-breasted Warblers, which also have a preference for budworm, lay more eggs and are more numerous in years of budworm abundance.

Natural enemies are probably responsible for considerable mortality when budworm populations are low, but seldom have a regulating influence when populations are in epidemic proportions.

Chemical insecticides such as malathion, carbaryl, and acephate can substantially reduce budworm. Microbial insecticides such as the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring, host-specific pathogen that affects only the larvae of lepidopterous insects is environmentally safe to use in sensitive areas such as campgrounds or along rivers or streams where it may not be desirable to use chemical insecticides.