EPPO Global Database

Spodoptera littoralis(SPODLI)

EPPO Datasheet: Spodoptera littoralis

Last updated: 2020-12-08


Preferred name: Spodoptera littoralis
Authority: (Boisduval)
Taxonomic position: Animalia: Arthropoda: Hexapoda: Insecta: Lepidoptera: Noctuidae
Other scientific names: Hadena littoralis Boisduval, Prodenia littoralis (Boisduval)
Common names in English: Egyptian cotton leafworm, Egyptian cotton worm, Mediterranean brocade moth, Mediterranean climbing cutworm, cotton leafworm, tobacco cutworm
view more common names online...
Notes on taxonomy and nomenclature

Spodoptera littoralis and S. litura were regarded as the same species under the name Prodenia litura Fabricius. Viette (1962) reviewed the species and suggested that there are two separate species S. littoralis and S. litura. 

EPPO Categorization: A2 list
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HOSTS 2020-12-08

S. littoralis is a highly polyphagous species (Prasad, & Bhattacharya, 1975; Brown & Dewhurst, 1975; Holloway, 1989). Host plants belonging to more than 40 families have been reported, including at least 87 species of economic importance (Salama et al., 1970). Among the main crops attacked by S. littoralis are cotton, groundnut, jute, lucerne, maize, rice, soybean, vegetables (aubergine, Brassica spp., Capsicum spp., cucurbitaceous vegetables, Phaseolus spp., potato, sweet potato, Vigna spp. etc.). Other hosts include ornamentals, wild plants and weeds. In most of the EPPO region, outdoor crops are not likely to be attacked, so the principal potential hosts are vegetables and ornamentals under glasshouses. In the south of the EPPO region, cotton, maize, lucerne, soybean, Trifolium and vegetables are hosts for S. littoralis.

Host list: Abelmoschus esculentus, Allium cepa, Amaranthus sp., Arachis hypogaea, Beta vulgaris, Brassica oleracea, Brassica rapa subsp. sylvestris, Brassica rapa, Cannabis sativa, Capsicum annuum, Chrysanthemum, Citrullus lanatus, Corchorus olitorius, Cucumis melo, Cucumis sativus, Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita moschata, Cynara scolymus, Daucus carota, Glycine max, Gossypium barbadense, Gossypium hirsutum, Gossypium, Helianthus annuus, Hibiscus cannabinus, Ipomoea batatas, Lactuca sativa, Malus domestica, Malva pusilla, Medicago sativa, Mentha spicata, Mentha x piperita, Mentha, Nicotiana tabacum, Phaseolus lunatus, Phaseolus vulgaris, Pisum sativum, Portulaca oleracea, Psidium guajava, Raphanus sativus, Ricinus communis, Sesbania sesban, Solanum lycopersicum, Solanum melongena, Solanum tuberosum, Spinacia oleracea, Trifolium alexandrinum, Urena lobata, Vachellia nilotica, Vicia faba, Vicia sativa, Vigna radiata, Vigna unguiculata, Vitis vinifera, Zea mays


S. littoralis is present in Africa, Southern Europe and the Middle East. Its native range is considered to be sub-Saharan Africa (Lopez-Vaamonde, 2008). It is now common in the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin, including countries in Southern Europe. Transient populations may occur in Northern Europe (Coquempot and Ramel, 2008).

EPPO Region: Algeria, Cyprus, France (mainland), Greece (mainland, Kriti), Israel, Italy (mainland, Sicilia), Jordan, Malta, Morocco, Portugal (mainland, Azores, Madeira), Spain (mainland, Islas Baleares, Islas Canárias), Tunisia, Turkey
Africa: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Congo, Democratic republic of the, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Reunion, Rwanda, Saint Helena, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Asia: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen

BIOLOGY 2020-12-08

S. littoralis females are ready to mate immediately after emergence. Oviposition starts between 2 and 5 days after emergence, and female lay more than 3000 eggs in egg masses of 20-350 on the lower leaf surface of the host plant (El-Sayes, 1977; El-Malki, 2000).  The masses are covered by hair-like scales from the end of the insect's abdomen.  The oviposition period lasts from 5 to 7 days at 22.5-27.5°C. Newly laid eggs of one strain of S. littoralis were reported to survive exposure to 1°C for 8 days. Partially developed eggs survived longer exposures than newly laid ones under equivalent conditions.

The eggs hatch in about 9 days at 17.5°C and in just 2 days at 32.5°C. The larvae pass through six instars in 15-23 days at 25-26°C. At lower temperatures, for example S. littoralis on glasshouse chrysanthemums in Europe, larvae often go through an extra instar, and maturation may take up to 3 months. The young larvae (first to third instar) feed in groups, leaving the opposite epidermis of the leaf intact. Later, the (4th to 6th instar) larvae disperse and spend the day in the ground under the host plant, feeding at night and early in the morning.

The pupal period is spent in earthen cells in the soil and lasts about 11-13 days at 25°C. Longevity of adults is about 4-10 days, being reduced by high temperature and low humidity. Thus, the life cycle can be completed in about 5 weeks. Up to eight generations have been reported in warm areas and at least 2 in Southern Europe (Vasilaina-Alexopoulou et al., 1970).  No diapause has been reported. Adults live in the field 5-10 days.

The development thresholds and thermal requirements of S. littoralis have been specified by El-Malki (2000) and Yones et al. (2012) and have been used for forecasting phenology in the field and time applied control measures. Dispersal of up to 8 km per generation is possible.

For more information, see Bishara (1934), Salama et al. (1970), Cayrol (1972), Nasr (1973), Baker & Miller (1974), El-Malki (2000), Ellis 2004, Yones et al. (2012) and Ismail (2020).



On most crops, damage arises from extensive feeding by larvae, leading to complete stripping of the plants. On cotton, leaves are heavily attacked, and bolls have large holes in them from which yellowish-green to dark-green larval excrement protrudes. On maize, the stems are often mined and young grains in the ear may be injured. 


Detailed descriptions and illustrations of the different stages are given in the EPPO Diagnostic protocol PM 7/124 (EPPO, 2015). 


Spherical, somewhat flattened, (width x height is approximately 0.45 mm x 0.35 mm). Eggs are laid in batches of 20 to over 350 eggs per batch and are usually covered with hair scales from the tip of the abdomen of the female moth. They are usually whitish-yellow and become black close to hatching.


First instar larvae are 1-2.5 mm long and mature larva are 40-45 mm in length; head width up to 2.9 mm; Typically, older larvae have a Y-shape on head/thorax shield; variable in colour (brown to greenish) 

In late instars of S. littoralis, small yellow to white dots are present at the base of the black patches on the second and third thoracic segment. Other conspicuous features are the dark patches on the dorsum, most prominently on abdominal segments 1 and 8. 


The pupa is brown about 15-20 mm long, with a cremaster of two spines of about 0.5 mm long.


Moth, with grey-brown body, 15-20 mm long; forewings in males 12-16 mm long and 13-16 mm long in females. The forewings are grey to reddish-brown with a strongly variegated pattern and paler lines along the veins; the hindwings are greyish-white with grey margins, without dark veins. There is a reniform spot light brown outlined in white which because of its triangular shape appears to be a titled letter ‘A’;

On dissection of the genitalia, ductus bursae is short (length less than twice the width) and completely sclerotized in female. Male genitalia with juxta quadrate with two ventrolateral projections; ampulla is elongate and curved.

For more information on the morphological description of pupal and larval stages of S. littoralis, see Mochida (1973). See also Cayrol (1972), Brown & Dewhurst (1975), Pogue (2002) and Gilligan & Passoa (2014).

Molecular tests 

Tests for molecular identification are described in the EPPO Diagnostic protocol PM 7/124 (EPPO, 2015).

Detection and inspection methods

Pheromone traps can be used for the detection of adults and are the primary method for detecting Lepidoptera species. All developmental stages can be visually detected on a host plant or commodity apart from pupae since larvae will mostly pupate in the soil. Methods are available for identification of adults or larvae detected on a plant or commodity. Further details for inspection of places of production for Vitis plants for planting are available in EPPO Standard PM 3/85 (EPPO, 2018).


The moths have a flight range of 1.5 km during a period of 4 h overnight, facilitating dispersion and oviposition on different hosts (Salama & Shoukry, 1972). They can accordingly fly quite long distances. However, spread in cooler regions would be limited by the short lifespan of adults (EFSA 2015). In international trade, eggs or larvae may be present on planting material, cut flowers or vegetables. Interceptions in EU suggest that S. littoralis is more commonly found on flowers (Rosa) and fresh herbs (mint, basil). S. littoralis has been trapped outside its normal range in Europe (Hachler, 1986), presumably as a result of entry on imported commodities or as a result of migratory flight from Southern Europe (EFSA, 2015).


Economic impact

S. littoralis is one of the most destructive agricultural lepidopterous pests within its subtropical and tropical range. It can attack numerous economically important crops all year-round. On cotton, the pest may cause considerable damage by feeding on the leaves, fruiting points, flower buds and also on bolls. Defoliation (of 20–70% of the leaf area) on cotton by S. littoralis larvae can result in 50% reduction in yield (Russel et al., 1993). When groundnuts are infested, larvae select primarily the young folded leaves for feeding but, in severe infestations, leaves of any age are stripped off. Sometimes, the ripening kernels in the pods in the soil may be attacked. Pods of cowpeas and the seeds they contain are also often badly damaged. In tomatoes, larvae bore into the fruit which is thus rendered unsuitable for consumption. Numerous other crops are also attacked, mainly on their leaves.

In Europe, damage due to S. littoralis was minimal until about 1937. In 1949, there was a catastrophic larval population explosion in Southern Spain. The main crops affected were lucerne, potatoes and other vegetable crops. At present, this noctuid is of great economic importance in Cyprus, Israel, Malta, Morocco and Spain (but not in the north of Spain, e.g. Cataluña). In Italy, it is especially important on protected crops of ornamentals and vegetables (Inserra & Calabretta, 1985; Nucifora, 1985; Sannino, 2003). In Greece, S. littoralis used to cause slight damage in Crete on lucerne and Trifolium only and it is currently a frequent pest in southern Greece causing damage to lucerne, potatoes and grass lawns. Recently, outdoor damage has been reported in France on several crops such as mint, Begonia, lettuce and chard (Coquempot & Ramel, 2008; Fredon Corse, 2014).


On cotton, an economic threshold of 10 000 egg masses /ha was considered reliable and practical for scheduling pesticide intervention (Hosny et al., 1986). Development of insecticide resistance against various classes of insecticides has been reported for field populations of S. littoralis and it is recommended to base management strategies on rotation of applied insecticides with different modes of action (Issa et al., 1984a; 1984b; Sawicki, 1986; Elghar et al., 2005; Temerak, 2002). An attract and kill methodology based on the sex pheromone of S. littoralis and λ-cyhalothrin was experimentally tested but without success in controlling S. littoralis infestations (Downham et al., 1995).

Several parasitoid species have been recorded from S. littoralis eggs and larva that contribute to its natural control (Gerling, 1971; Depalo et al., 2010; Hatem et al., 2016; Vojtech et al., 2005; Agbodzavu et al., 2018). Application of commercial products that rely on Bacillus thuringiensis is common in regions where S. littoralis is present (Navon et al., 1983; Magholifard et al., 2020). In addition, use of entomopathogenic fungi, entomopathogenic nematodes and a specific nucleopolyhedrovirus which is commercially available are used in the field for controlling S. littoralis infestations (Sutanto et al., 2017; Sobhy et al., 2020; Resquín-Romero et al., 2016).

Host plants of S. littoralis such as cotton, maize, soybean etc. have been genetically modified to express insecticidal proteins derived from Bacillus thuringiensis and have been used against S. littoralis larvae (Vojtech, et al., 2005; Britz et al., 2020). Various plant extracts have shown promising efficacy against S. littoralis larvae (Moawad & Sadek, 2018). In the past, mass trapping has been tested for S. littoralis (Campion & Nesbitt, 1982).

Phytosanitary risk

Spodoptera littoralis is present in the EPPO region in the Mediterranean countries. Being a polyphagous pest, it can be associated with several plant commodities and further introduced and spread in the rest of the EPPO region. However, this pest cannot successfully overwinter in northern areas, therefore, establishment is not expected, outside of greenhouses, beyond of its current distribution range. Dispersal by flight and presence of outbreaks in Northern Europe have been reported in the past and may occasionally occur (EFSA, 2015).


S. littoralis could further be introduced and spread into the EPPO region through international trade. Phytosanitary measures may include cultivation of plants for planting in pest free areas or pest free sites of production and inspection of commodities prior to export. 

Examples of measures used for cut flowers include cold storage e.g. for chrysanthemum and carnation cuttings. Cold storage for at least 10 days at a temperature not exceeding 1.7°C kills all stages of S. littoralis, but may damage the plants. Storage at slightly higher temperatures or shorter durations does not eradicate S. littoralis, but differences in response to cold have been observed both between strains and within developmental stages of the pest (Powell & Gostick, 1971; Miller, 1976). Irradiation has been investigated as a treatment for cut flowers (Navon et al., 1988).

REFERENCES 2020-12-03

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Agbodzavu MK, Lagat ZO, Gikungu M, Rwomushana I, Ekesi S & Fiaboe KKM (2018) Performance of the newly identified endoparasitoid Cotesia icipe Fernandez-Triana & Fiaboe on Spodoptera littoralis (Boisduval). Journal of Applied Entomology 142(7), 646–653.

Baker CRB & Miller GW (1974) Some effects of temperature and larval food on the development of Spodoptera littoralis. Bulletin of Entomological Research 63, 495-511.

Bishara I (1934) The cotton worm Prodenia litura F. in Egypt. Bulletin de la Société Entomologique d'Egypte 18, 223-404.

Britz CJ, Van den Berg H & Du Plessis (2020) Susceptibility of Spodoptera littoralis (Boisduval) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) to Bt Cotton, expressing Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab toxins, in South Africa, African Entomology 28(1), 182-186.

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Campion DG & Nesbitt F (1982) Recent advances in the use of pheromones in developing countries with particular reference to mass-trapping for the control of the Egyptian cotton leafworm Spodoptera littoralis and mating disruption for the control of pink bollworm Pectinophora gossypiella. In: Les médiateurs chimiques agissant sur le comportement des insectes, pp. 335-342. INRA, Paris, France.

Cayrol RA (1972) Famille des Noctuidae. In: Entomologie appliquée à l'agriculture (Ed. by  AS Balachowsky), vol. 2, pp. 1411-1423. Masson, Paris, France.

Coquempot C & Ramel J-M (2008) La noctuelle africaine du coton en voie de sédentarisation en France? PHM Revue Horticole 506, 33-36.

Depalo L, Marchetti E, Baronio P, Martini A, &Dindo ML (2010) Location, acceptance and suitability of Spodoptera littoralis and Galleria mellonella as hosts for the parasitoid Exorista larvarum. Bulletin of Insectology 63, 65–69.

Downham MCA, McVeigh LJ & Moawad GM (1995) Field investigation of an attracticide control technique using the sex pheromone of the Egyptian cotton leafworm, Spodoptera  littoralis (Lepi-doptera: Noctuidae). Bulletin Entomological Research 85, 463–472.

EFSA PLH Panel (EFSA Panel on Plant Health) (2015) Scientific Opinion on the pest categorisation of Spodoptera littoralis. EFSA Journal 13(1):3987, 26 pp. https://doi.org/10.2903/j.efsa.2015.3987

Elghar GEA, Elbermawy ZA, Yousef AG & Elhady HKA (2005) Monitoring and characterization of insecticide resistance in the cotton leafworm, Spodoptera littoralis (Boisd.) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) Journal of Asia-Pacific Entomology 8(4), 397–410.

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Holloway JD (1989) The moths of Borneo: Family Noctuidae, trifine subfamilies: Noctuinae, Heliothinae, Hadeninae, Acronictinae, Amphipyrinae, Agaristinae. Malayan Nature Journal 42, 57-226.

Hosny MM, Topper CP, Moawad GM & El-Saadany GB (1986) Economic damage thresholds of Spodoptera littoralis (Boisd.) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) on cotton in Egypt. Crop Protection 5(2), 100–104. 

Inserra S & Calabretta C (1985) [Attack by noctuids: a recurring problem in greenhouse crops of the Ragusa coast]. Tecnica Agricola 37, 283-297 (in Italian).

Ismail SM (2020) Biological and biochemical impacts of temperature on Spodoptera littoralis (Boisduval). International Journal of Advanced Biological and Biomedical Research 1, 20-27.

Issa YH, Keddis ME, Abdel-Sattar MA, Ayad FA & El-Guindy MA (1984a) Survey of resistance to organophosphorus insecticides in field strains of the cotton leafworm during 1980-1984 cotton-growing seasons. Bulletin of the Entomological Society of Egypt, Economic Series 14, 399-404.

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Vojtech E, Meissle M & Poppy GM (2005) Effects of Bt maize on the herbivore Spodoptera littoralis (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) and the parasitoid Cotesia marginiventris (Hymenoptera: Braconidae). Transgenic Research 14(2), 133–144. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11248-005-2736-z

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This datasheet was extensively revised in 2020 by Panagiotis Milonas (Benaki Phytopathological Institute). His valuable contribution is gratefully acknowledged.

How to cite this datasheet?

EPPO (2021) Spodoptera littoralis. EPPO datasheets on pests recommended for regulation. Available online. https://gd.eppo.int

Datasheet history 2020-12-03

This datasheet was first published in the EPPO Bulletin in 1981 and revised in the two editions of 'Quarantine Pests for Europe' in 1992 and 1997, as well as in 2020. It is now maintained in an electronic format in the EPPO Global Database. The sections on 'Identity', ‘Hosts’, and 'Geographical distribution' are automatically updated from the database. For other sections, the date of last revision is indicated on the right.

CABI/EPPO (1992/1997) Quarantine Pests for Europe (1st and 2nd edition). CABI, Wallingford (GB).

EPPO (1981) Data Sheet on Quarantine Organisms no 120: Spodoptera littoralis. EPPO Bulletin 11(1), 6 pp. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2338.1981.tb01750.x