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Pea Moth

Pea moth (Cydia nigricana) is a common pest that affects pea crops, causing damage to developing pods and reducing yields. Understanding its life cycle and control measures is crucial for protecting pea plants.

Pea Moth

The pea moth (Cydia nigricana) is an insect pest targeting pea plants. As its name suggests, it poses a significant threat to the cultivation of peas, particularly in home gardens and commercial operations.

Host Plants

The pea moth’s main host plants are various species of peas (Pisum sativum), specifically garden peas. They can also occasionally infest vetch, clover, and lentil.

Regions impacted

Pea moths are found across Europe and in parts of Asia and North America. They are most prevalent in cooler climates, typically most suitable for pea cultivation.


Pea moth adults are small, about 6-8 mm long, with a wingspan of approximately 12-16 mm. Their wings are grayish-brown with a distinctive pattern that aids in their identification. The forewings are split into two color segments, with the base being a metallic blue-black and the end a pale grey-brown with some black spots.

Larvae are approximately 1/2 inch (10 mm) long and have creamy white bodies with light brown heads. Eggs are minuscule and laid on the flowers or pods of the host plant.

Life Cycle

The life cycle of the pea moth involves four stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa, and adult (moth). Here’s a detailed breakdown:

Egg: The adult female pea moth lays her eggs on the flowers or young pods of pea plants. The exact timing of egg-laying varies by region and climate, but in general, eggs are laid in late spring to early summer, aligning with the flowering of pea plants.

Larva: After about a week or two, the eggs hatch into larvae, which are small, cream-colored caterpillars. These larvae quickly burrow into the developing pea pods, where they begin to feed on the peas inside. Over the course of about a month, the caterpillars eat and grow, going through several instar stages.

Pupa: After the larvae have reached their full size, they exit the pea pods and drop to the ground. They burrow into the soil and form a cocoon, where they pupate. This pupal stage is a time of transformation, where the caterpillar changes into an adult moth.

In cooler climates, the first generation of pea moths will pupate in the soil and overwinter, emerging as adults the following spring. However, in warmer climates or during particularly warm years, there may be a second generation of pea moths. In this case, the first generation of larvae will pupate in the summer and emerge as adults later in the season. These adults will lay eggs for a second generation, which will then overwinter as pupae.

Adult: After pupating, the adult moths emerge from the soil. These moths are relatively small, with a wingspan of about 12-16 mm, and are grayish-brown in color. The adults mate and the females lay eggs to start the next generation, and the cycle begins anew.

This entire life cycle is typically synchronized with the growing season of the pea plants, the moth’s primary host. The moth’s ability to produce more than one generation per year, coupled with its larval stage’s destructive feeding habits, makes it a significant pest for pea crops.

Damage and Detection

Pea moths cause damage during their larval stage when the caterpillars feed on the developing peas inside the pods.


The primary sign of damage is the presence of small, cream-colored caterpillars or their frass (excrement) inside pea pods. The caterpillars bore into the pods and consume the peas, which leads to shriveled, discolored, and damaged peas. Infestation often results in a significant reduction in the yield and quality of the crop.

The damage can be particularly severe in home gardens and commercial operations that grow peas for fresh consumption or for the frozen and canned pea markets, where visible damage to the peas can make them unmarketable.


Detecting a pea moth infestation can be tricky, as the larvae are hidden inside the pea pods. Often, the first indication of an infestation is the presence of small pinholes in the pods, although these are not always visible.

Another common method of detection is the use of pheromone traps. These traps contain a synthetic version of the female pea moth’s mating pheromone, which attracts male moths. By monitoring these traps, you can determine when pea moths are active in the area and take action to protect your peas.

Opening up pea pods can also reveal an infestation, although by this time, the damage has already been done. Look for the presence of small caterpillars, as well as the tell-tale signs of their feeding, such as damaged peas and the presence of frass.

In severe infestations, the plants themselves may show signs of stress, such as wilting or yellowing, due to the loss of nutrients caused by the feeding larvae. However, these symptoms are often only visible after a significant portion of the crop has already been damaged.

Prevention and Control

Controlling pea moth infestations can be challenging due to their specific life cycle and the hidden nature of their damage. However, several preventative and control measures can be employed:

Timing of Planting: Timing your pea planting to avoid the peak egg-laying period of the pea moth can help. In areas where pea moths are a known problem, plant early so your peas are harvested before the moths start laying eggs. Alternatively, plant later in the season so your plants don’t start flowering until after the moths have completed their egg-laying period.

Pheromone Traps: Pheromone traps can be used for monitoring and controlling the pea moth population. These traps attract male moths with a synthetic version of the female moth’s mating pheromone, preventing them from finding and mating with real females, thereby reducing the number of fertilized eggs.

Crop Rotation and Garden Sanitation: Rotate your pea crops to different areas of the garden each year to disrupt the life cycle of the moth. After harvesting, remove and dispose of all plant debris, which can host overwintering pupae.

Biological Control: Natural enemies of the pea moth, such as parasitic wasps, can help control their population. Encourage these beneficial insects by planting a variety of flowering plants around your garden.

Insect Nets: Covering your plants with insect netting or row covers can help prevent the moths from laying eggs on the plants. Ensure the nets are applied before the moths start flying and are securely fastened at the edges to prevent moths from getting underneath.

Chemical Control: In severe infestations, insecticides might be necessary. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and remember that timing is crucial. Insecticides should be applied just after the peak flight period of the moths to kill the young caterpillars before they bore into the pea pods.

Remember, it’s crucial to implement these methods as part of an integrated pest management strategy, which seeks to control pests in a way that minimizes harm to the environment and non-target organisms. Regularly monitor your plants and adapt your strategies based on the level of infestation and the effectiveness of your control measures.

While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

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