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  • Malkiat Singh Duhra

Biocontrol of Sugarcane Pests

Updated: Jul 31, 2022

Insect pests continue to be a major biotic stress on sugarcane in India as they attack the crop from the time of planting until almost harvest, inflicting yield and sugar losses. Biological control has always received a prominent position among the pest management tools facilitated by unique semi-perennial crop habitat and low pesticide usage. Biocontrol research of the early 1930s and 40s was characterized by survey focusing on identification and studies on the basic biology and natural enemies. Conservation and re-distribution, and introduction and colonization of predominant parasitoids was practiced very early, even in the recent past, with remarkable successes. Mass multiplication and field evaluation that began in the early decades continue today, as is demonstrated by the use of the most exploited parasitoid Trichogramma chilonis. Several parasitoids and predators of borers and sucking pests were investigated systematically when the need arose. Among entomopathogens, granulosis viruses and fungi received considerable attention; a simple formulation of Beauveria brongniartii reached commercial production for the control of white grub Holotrichia serrata. In recent years, isolate of Bacillus thuringiensis from sugarcane soil have been examined and a scarabaeid-specific cry gene has been identified. Preliminary studies of kairomonal principles from borers as attractants to the larval parasitoid Cotesia flavipes have been carried out. Organizational support to the cause of biological control includes coordinated research efforts from the government agencies, production of biocontrol agents by commercial insectaries and promotion of technologies by the sugar industry. In this review, we chronicle the major research findings over the past eight decades, portray an overview of their significance and project the prospects and priorities for biological control research and promotion in the country.


The historical roots of biological control in India go back to 1919. Misra made some preliminary observations on the parasitoids of pyrilla and white flies. Mass multiplication of Trichogramma chilonis on factitious host Corcyra cephalonica was started in 1930s for use against shoot borer in the inundative release mode. During 1958-64 Isotima javensis was successfully established in peninsular India against top borer. Similarly Encarsia flavocutellum introduced from North East India established in tropical India and prevented yield and quality losses due to woolly aphids Ceratovacuna lanigera. Epiricana melanoleuca was used to control pyrilla. Control of top borer, pyrilla, and woolly aphids are classic examples of successful introduction and colonization within the country. Mass production of Trichogramma chilonis was established.

Decade-wise Progress

Prior to 1930: Studies were carried out regarding bio ecology and symptoms of major and minor insect pests, preliminary observations on natural enemies. Trichogramma chilonis was observed to parasite eggs of borers ( 60-80 percent ) . Some parasitoids of white fly were recorded in Maharashtra. Eggs of perilla were parasitised by encyrtids, cacoons of parasitoids were observed on sugarcane and sorghum leaves throughout the year in South India.

1931-40: Trichogramma was observed on shoot borer and sorghum stem borer. Mass production tried of Corcyra cephalonica. Pupal parasitoid Tetrasticus howardi was observed on shoot borer, internode borer, and pink borer. Parasitoid was multiplied on pupae of number of other hosts.

1941-50: On top bore egg parasitoid Telenomus beneficiens was observed.

On shoot borer eggs , Trichogrammatoidea nana was observed. Larval parasitods; Bracon hebetor, Bracon chinensis, Rhaconotus scirpophagae, Stenobracon deese were recorded on sugarcane borers. In Punjab 30-40 percent parasitism by Isotima javances was recorded. Releases of T. Chilonis were done at Karnal during 1944-55. On perilla Tetrasticus pyrillse, Ageniaspis pyrillae, Cheiloneurus pyrillae, and Epiricania melanoleuca were recorded. Brumus saturalis recorded on aphids, coccids, and mites all over India. Scymnus gracilis predator of mites also recorded.

1951-60: following parasitoids were observed on borers:

  • Egg parasitoids ; Telenomus dignoides.

  • Larval parasitoids ; Bracon famulus, Cotesia flavipes, Gonious , listrognathus, Mesostenus.

  • Pupal parasitoids ; Tetrasticus sp and Isotema javensis on top borer.

  • Entomopathogenic nematode, Mermis sp on shoot borer larvae.

In Punjab ; Trichogramma chilonis was observed on Gurdaspur bore eggs. Trichogramma chilonis was tried against shoot borer for four years but due to high temperature during May-June parasitisation remained low. Mass breeding was done on Corcyra cephalonica ,

  • Cotesia flavipes recorded on the larvae of plasy borer.

  • T. Pyrillae, A. Pyrillae, C. Pyrillae recorded on eggs of pyrilla.

  • Metarhizium anisopliae ( green muscardine ) isolated from pyrilla.

Several natural enemies were recorded on scale insects ( Melanapis glomerata ), mealy bugs and white flies etc.

1961-70: Biological control of borers tried in different parts of India.

  • Trichogramma chilonis reared at high temperature 35 C and low humidity 10-20 percent to make it hardy to tolerate high temperature and low humidity during May-June to make it more effective.

  • Imported many larval parasitoids of top borer but did not work in the fields although in laboratory they parasitised 50-70 percent.

  • Inoculative releases of Isotema javensis against top borer in Tamil Nadu and Karnatka established and gave encouraging results.

  • Aspergillus parasiticus, Beauveria bassiana, EPN, and Hexamermis evaluated against top borer larvae.

  • Bacillus thuringiensis ( Bakthane, Thuricide ) reduced incidence of Gurdaspur borer.

  • Bacillus thuringiensis also evaluated against white grubs

  • Following Parasitoids found effective to suppress the population of pyrilla:

    • Ooencyrtus pyrillae, Ooencyrtus papilionis , and Tetrasticus pyrillae egg parasitoids of pyrilla.

    • Epiricania melanoleuca parasitised nymphs and adults of pyrilla.

  • Hymenoptera parasitised and predatory coccinellids suppressed population of scale insects.

  • Metarhizium anisopliae and Hirsutella sp used against pyrilla and Aschersonia placenta against white fly.

1971-80: Natural enemies recorded on shoot borer, top borer, stalk borer, and root borer. Trichogramma chilonis parasitsation varied from 2-95 percent.

Five species of Trichogramma were imported, released and recovered.

Inundative releases of Trichogramma revived in Tamil Nadu and some other places.

Paenibacillus popilliae evaluated on Holotrichia serrata, predator carabid beetle, Anthia sexguttala and toad Bufo melanostictus also tried.

1981-90: Natural enemies of Gurdaspur borer were recorded.

Cotesia ruficrus, Cutesia flavipes, some fungal and bacterial pathogens were recorded on stalk borer.

Taiwan strain of Trichogramma chilonis was more effective parasitoid for the control of stalk borer.

Exotic parasitoid Aliorhogus pyralophagus evaluated against stalk borer but it did not give satisfactory results in the fields.

Epiricania melanoleuca parasitoid of pyrilla introduced in South India successfully.

Ants A. longipes used or the control termites

Beauveria brongniarti used for the control of white grub.

1991-2000: Spiders, ground beetles , Beauveria bassina, M. anisopliae evaluated against root borer.

After 2000: Pheromones and Trichogramma chilonis gave better results to control stalk borer.

G V on shoot borer gave good results to control it.

Releases of Trichogramma chilonis and Cotesia flavipes from July to October was recommended for the control of stalk borer in different states of India.

Many parasitoids were found effective against woolly aphids and scale insects and recommended in Tropical India.

Predators Dipha aphidivora, Micromus igorotus, and Entomophagous fungus like Acremoni zeylanicum, Metarhizium anisopliae, Beauveria bassiana give good results to control white grub.

Beauveria brongniartii was mass- cultured on molasses and press- mud used as carrier to apply and it is used against Holotrichia serrata ,white grub.

Summary : Research Work

First Half 20th Century:

  1. Trichogramma chilonis

  2. Cotesia flavipes

  3. Isotema javensis

  4. Emmalocera javensis

Second Half 20th Century:

1. Entomopathogens

2. Bio-ecology

3. G. V.

4. Predatory spider D. aphidivora

5. Colonization was done by ; inoculative, supplementary, and inundative

6. In tropical India control of scale insects by releasing E.flavoscutellum in Assam

7. Epiricana releases were made in tropical India for the control of pyrilla.

8. Improvement was done in mass rearing of Trichogramma chilonis, Cotesia flavipes, Epiricania melanoleuca

Organizational Evaluation:

  1. 1920: Biological control in Bihar and Mysure

  2. 1960: Both national and international organizations involved; Commonwealth Institute of Biological control carried out work on Trichogramma, Tachinid parasitoids , Coccinellids were evaluated both in tropic and sub-tropic.

  3. 1977: Indian Council of Agriculture Research ( ICAR ) , Sugarcane Breeding Institute ( SBI ) Combatore, other ICAR and State Universities became the part of All India Coordinated Research Project ( AICRP ) on sugarcane. 1988 : Integrated Pest Management ( IPM ) and Biological control carried out.

  4. 1971 : The All India Coordinated Research Project ( AICRP ) on sugarcane carried out by ICAR institutes, SBI Coimbatore, State Agricultural Universities.

  5. 1980s : Biological Control Laboratories were established at PAU Sugarcane Research Station Jalandhar, Simbhauli Sugar Mills, Nawanshahir Sugar Mills. Gurdaspur Sugar Mills etc

Insect Pests of Sugarcane:

  1. Early shoot borer, Chilo infuscatellus Snellen, Lepidopter,

  2. Top shoot borer, Scirpophaga excerptalis Walker, Lepidopter.

  3. Stalk borer, Chilo auricillius Dudgeon, Lepidopter

  4. Root borer, Emmalocera depressella, Swinhoe, Lepidopter.

  5. Pink borer, Sesamia inferens, Walker, Lepidopter.

  6. Pyrilla, Pyrilla perpusella Walker, Hemiptera.

  7. Black bug, Cavelerius excavates, C. sweeti Distt, Hemiptera.

  8. Whitefly, Aleurolobus barodensis Maskell, Hemiptera.

  9. Mealy bug, Saccharicoccus sacchari Cockerell, Hemiptera.

  10. Mite, Oligonychus sacchari Mc Gregor.

  11. Termites, Odentotermes spp, Isoptera.

Natural Enemies of Sugarcane Pests:

Borer egg : Trichogramma chilonis, Tetrasticus spp, Telenomus spp, Chelonus spp,Trichogramma japonicum

Borer larva and pupa : Isotema javensis, Rachonotus scirpophagi, Stenobracon deese, Cotesia flavipes, Sturmiopsis inferanens, Stenobracon nicevelli, Apantelese spp

Predators : Coccinellids, Dragon fly, Chrysoperia zastowi, king crow, Spider, Rubber fly, Praying mantis Reduvlid bug, Ovomermis albican, Nematodes

Pyrilla eggs : Tetrasticus spp, Ageniaspirus spp, Ooencyrtus spp,

Pyrilla nymphs and adults: Epiricana melanoleuca

Predators : Coccinellids

Whitefly parasitoids : Encarsia isaaci, Erentmocerus spp, Dicyphus spp, Hesperus, Chrysocheris spp. Entomogenous fungus.

Whitefly predators : Coccinellids, Spiders, Lacewings.

Black bugs parasitoids : Tachinid fly,

Black bugs predators : Geocorid ( big eyes bugs )

Mite predators : Predatory mites, Predatory beetles, Predatory thrips, Oligota spp, Mirid, Lacewings Anthocorid bugs, Hover flies.

Mealy bug parasitoid : Parasitic wasp.

Mealy bud predators : Coccinellids, Hover flies.

White grub parasitoids : Parasitic wasp ( Tiphia spp ) Entomogenic nematodes, Entomogenic fungi Metarhizium anisopliae,Beauveria brongniartii.

White grub predators : Ground beetle, Ants, Wasps.

The semi-perennial sugarcane habitat promotes natural biological control and provides a conducive environment for applied biological control. The first and foremost strategy in biological control of sugarcane pests should be the sustenance of the natural biological control component through avoidance of system disruption. Sporadic pest outbreaks that occur in the crop, apparently due to localized disturbances whose cases are often difficult to decipher, are sometime associated with a decline in the activity of the major natural enemies. After unusually profuse proliferation of the predominant natural enemies occurs cocomitantly with the pest flare-up as were observed in the pyrilla outbreak. Judicious use of emergency insecticide applications coupled with supplementary releases of the natural in the first case, and avoidance of insecticides togather with redistribution of the proliferating predominant natural enemy in the second case , usually restore balance by the beginning of the next season, as experience in some such cases indicates. The general Research and Development strategies should include identification, introduction, colonization, and establishment of the major natural enemy, especially in the event of an inadvertent introduction or invasion within the country or from an other country.

Biological control : 1. Importation 2. Augmentation 3. Conservation.


  1. Grow nectar producing plants in the borders of sugarcane fields. Parasitoids need nectar to feed.

  2. A metre-wide strip of tussock grasses in fields.

  3. Adopt cropping system which support parasitoids.

  4. Fallen leaves and mulches shelter for insect ; and ultimately for parasitoids.

  5. Bt cotton create more favourable environment for natural enemies.

Three basic strategies of biological control:

  1. Classical ( importation ).

  2. Inundative.

  3. Inoculative.

Some examples of biological control:


  1. Lady beetles- aphids, mites, scale insects, and small caterpillars.

  2. Spotted lady beetle- larvae of Colorado potato beetle.

  3. Hover fly - aphids

  4. Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita - slugs

  5. Predatory mite, ladybird, bugs - spider and mites.

Parasitoids wasps and flies

  1. Ichneumonid wasp - caterpillars

  2. Brachonid wasps - caterpillars, and aphids

  3. Chalcid wasps - eggs,and larvae

  4. Technid flies - caterpillars, beetle adults, larvae,and true bugs.

Pathogens : Bacteria, fungi, viruses ( density dependent )


  1. Bacillus thuringiensis - Lepidopter, Coleoptera, and Diptera

  2. Paenibacillus papillae ( milky spore disease ) - Japanese beetle


  1. Beauvaria bassiana - White fly, aphids, thrips, and weevils.

  2. Metarhizium spp - Beetles, locusts, grasshoppers, Hemiptera, and spider mites.


  1. Lymantria dispar ( multicapsid nuclear polyhedrosis virus ) - Gypsy moth.

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