The pink bollworm (Heliothis armigera) affects cotton production in many South Texas counties, particularly those counties along the Rio Grande. The pink bollworm is the larval stage of a small brown moth. The insect passes through four stages of development-egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The larva of the worm is the destroyer, as it eats the maturing seed within the cotton boll. The life cycle in midsummer is usually completed in twenty-five to thirty days, and as many as six generations of the insect may occur in a season. The pest entered from Mexico and became a menace in 1916. In 1917 the state legislature passed the Pink Bollworm Act, which subsequently was modified to provide regulations to control the worm and restrict the infected area. Three years later the Thirty-sixth Legislature established the Pink Bollworm Commission to oversee the enforcement of state regulations. In addition, a Compensation Claims Board was established to deal with the financial losses of those farmers forced to destroy infected crops. One of the worst years for bollworm infestation was 1938, when they were reported in more than 119 counties. By 1944 the claims board was paying claimants an average of $500. To control the pink bollworm in the state, first the commission and then the Texas Department of Agriculture laid down rules and regulations governing planting, cultivating, growing, and harvesting cotton. To prevent over-wintering (winter survival) of the pest, shredding and plowing under of the cotton stalks by given dates is required. Federal quarantine regulates interstate movement of cotton from infested to noninfested areas. While regulating the growing season proved somewhat effective, it did not eradicate the pest. As late as 1952, cotton losses from this insect exceeded $28 million in thirty-eight South Texas counties.
During the 1960s and 1970s chemical insecticides, including DDT, were used in attempts to control the insect. With the heightened interest in nonchemical pest control in the 1980s, scientists with the Texas Department of Agriculture experimented with hormone manipulation of the bollworm and the tobacco budworm. Through the use of insect pheromones, researchers tricked male bollworms into mating with female budworms. Because the genitalia were mismatched, the insects became locked together and died. Since 1955, the overall goal of farmers and scientists has been to try to control rather than eradicate the pest. Volunteer efforts by farmers that have been successful have included delayed planting, deep plowing, and winter irrigations. Some control measures were so effective, in fact, that in 1978 the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission recommended to the governor that the commission be abolished. In 1995 the state legislature passed the Pest Management Law, which merged the bollworm program with the state's program to destroy the cotton boll weevil. At that time the primary means of control continued to be the destruction of cotton stalks, which thus interrupted the life cycle of the insect. In 1995 problem areas in the state included the Trans-Pecos valley and the El Paso valley. See also AGRICULTURE, and COTTON CULTURE.
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Austin American-Statesman, August 20, 1982. Truman McMahan, "The Fight against the Pink Bollworm in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 94 (July 1990). Ernest Scholl, Report of the Pink Bollworm of Cotton (Austin: Texas Department of Agriculture, 1919). Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, Pink Bollworm Commission: Staff Report to the Sunset Advisory Commission (Austin, 1978).
Diseases and Pests
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 27, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
December 1, 1995