White Bugs Are Eating Sunflowers

Sunflowers have yellow petals surrounding seeds.

Sunflowers are common garden plants and produce seeds that can be eaten. The banded sunflower moth is among the many insects that feed on sunflowers. As an adult, the moth does not damage sunflowers. In its immature larval form, however, it feeds on sunflower florets and seeds. Banded sunflower moth larvae are small, off-white worms found in the heads of affected sunflowers. Does this Spark an idea?


The adult banded sunflower moth has yellow wings, and a dark band is across each wing. The insect usually holds its wings against its abdomen. When the wings are extended, the wingspan is about ½ inch wide. The off-white larvae of this moth are easily seen as they crawl in sunflower florets. As the larvae mature, they turn pink in color. The larvae’s head is brown.

The larvae first feed on the flowers of sunflowers. As the plants’ seeds begin to form, the larvae tunnel into a seed. After they eat that seed, they feed on up to seven other seeds.


Digging up a sunflower garden in autumn reduces the number of banded sunflower moths that emerge the next spring. Delaying the planting of sunflowers to late May or early June also can result in decreased infestation.

Chemical Control

Several broad-spectrum insecticides can control the banded sunflower moth. They also kill most insects in a garden, including the beneficial insects that feed on the banded sunflower moth. While insecticides initially reduce the pest population, the reduction is usually followed by a rebound in the pest population. This rebound is the result of reduced predation by beneficial insects.

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Bacterial Control

Bacillus thuringiensis is a bacterium that can be sprayed on sunflowers to control the banded sunflower moth larvae. It kills the moth larvae and doesn’t harm beneficial insects. If the moth larvae population attempts to rebound, the beneficial insects still will be present to keep the larvae under control. The bacterium has to be consumed by the larvae in order to be effective. The bacterium is sprayed when the larvae are young and small.