A pinkish white, 1/2 inch long caterpillar with a brown head, this pest tunnels into the stems, tubers, and fruit of its target plants. It’s a problem in the southern half of the United States.
Target: Primarily potatoes, but sometimes tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers.
Damage: Tunneling spoils tubers and fruit and causes shoots to wilt and die. If potato eyes turn pink with excrement, your crop is infested.
Life cycle: Small, narrow-winged, brown moths crawl through cracks in the soil to lay eggs on growing tubers; they also lay eggs on leaf undersides, debris, and soil. After feeding, the caterpillars pupate in debris or amid stored tubers. There are up to six generations a year.
Control: Crop rotation, mulching, destroying infested plants and tubers, sanitation.
Notes: Rotate tomato-family plants as a group. Eliminate cracks in the soil by applying a thick mulch or by hilling potato plants. Don’t let newly harvested potatoes sit out on the ground overnight.