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Texas Invasive Species Institute

Texas Invasive Species Institute

Pink bollworm

Pectinophora gossypiella

Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Gelechiidae

Pectinophora gossypiella

Photographer: Peggy Greb Source: USDA- Agricultural Research Service Copyright: CC 3.0 US


The adults are small moths about 3/8 inch long, and are dark brown with markings on the fore wing. The larval stage, is the destructive and identifiable stage. As the name implies, the larvae have distinctive pink bands and can reach a length of ½ inches right before they pupate. Pupae are a shiny brown.

Ecological Threat

Pink bollworms are major pests of cotton. The larvae feed on the seeds and destroy the fibers of cotton, reducing quality and crop yield. Since its discovery it has caused millions of dollars in cotton damage, and control costs each year. Losses in cotton for the United States are estimated around $5.5 million, despite control efforts. It has also been observed to attack hibiscus, okra and hollyhock.


Adults only last for 2 weeks but females will lay 200 or more eggs. Eggs are laid on cotton bolls, and after they hatch, the larvae eat the cotton seeds and damage the fiber. When the larvae mature, they cut out the boll and drop to the ground and cocoon near the soil surface. 


First found in 1917 in Hearne, Texas. It might have migrated naturally from Mexico, or through infested shipments. Extensive measures eliminated the Texas and Louisiana infestations in 1919. However, re-infestation in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, happened again in the mid-1930s. By the mid-1950s it spread to other areas in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana. By 1963 it reached California.

Native Origin

Possibly India

Current Location

U.S. Habitat: Cotton fields

U.S. Present: AR, AZ, CA, LA, NM, OK and TX


The pink bollworm is now recorded in nearly all the cotton-growing countries of the world, and is a key pest in many of these areas. Researchers have been consistently searching for biological control methods, including parasitoids and hyper-parasitoids. Over the past 80 years they have looked into 160 species of parasitic wasps, but so far have not found the “cure-all”.

Texas AgriLife Extension offices have done extensive research on management of this cotton pest. An integrated management system that varies during the growth seasons is important in controlling pink bollworm populations. For the spring they suggest planting the cotton later and keeping a compact season, which limits the success of pink bollworms since they produce fewer generations. Mid-season, monitoring of bloom counts can help determine infestation level. Pheromone traps can be used to determine intensity of infestation, but should not be relied on totally. Insecticides, in conjunction with mating disruption products are to be reapplied. In the late season irrigation should be terminated by late August because survival of overwintering larvae increases to 90% between September and October.


CAB International Institute of Entomology. 1990. Pectinophora gossypiella (Saunders). International Institute of Entomology Distribution Maps of Pests Series A (Agricultural), Map No. 13, 3rd rev.

Gordh, G., & Medved, R. E. 1986. Biological notes on Goniozus pakmanus Gordh (Hymenoptera: Bethylidae), a parasite of pink bollworm, Pectinophora gossypiella (Saunders) (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society, 723-734.

Naranjo, Steven E., George D. Butler, Jr., and Thomas J. Henneberry. 2001. A Bibliography of the Pink Bollworm, Pectinophora gossypiella (Saunders). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Bibliographies and Literature of Agriculture 136.

Internet Sources







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