White Grubs

Phyllophaga spp., Cyclocephala spp., and Popillia japonica Newman

Appearance and Life History

Larvae (grubs) Larvae (grubs)
Photo by J. Obermeyer

There are several species of white grubs in the Midwest. Proper identification of species is important because of the differences in life cycles and degree of crop damage.

White grubs are the immature forms of scarab beetles, the well-known May/June beetles, masked chafer, and Japanese beetle. The grubs, 1/4 to over 1 inch (6-25 mm) long, are white with brown heads and have six prominent legs. Their bodies typically are curved into a "C"-shape.

May/June beetle May/June beetle
Photo by J. Obermeyer
Masked chafer Masked chafer
Photo by J. Obermeyer
Japanese beetle Japanese beetle
Photo by B. Christine

White grubs are occasional pests of corn seedlings. Corn fields with white grub injury were commonly in sod, cover crop, set-aside (May/June beetles, masked chafer, or Japanese beetle), or in soybean (Japanese beetle) the previous season. May/June beetles and masked chafer prefer to lay their eggs in grasses. The Japanese beetle will lay its eggs in grasses, soybean, and, to a lesser degree, in corn. May/June beetles have a two to three-year life cycle (grub stage from August through the next year and sometimes during portions of the third year), while masked chafer and Japanese beetle have a one-year life cycle (grub stage from late July through mid June the following year).

White Grubs Life Cycle


Damaged root system compared to healthy one Damaged root system compared to healthy one
Photo by S. Dlugosz

White grub damage typically appears as stunted, wilted, discolored, or dead seedlings and/or as gaps in rows where plants fail to emerge. White grubs prune roots and can feed on the mesocotyl causing plant death. If such damage is apparent, dig up some corn plants in the affected area(s). Look for white grubs in the root zone and examine the seedling and root system for damage.

Sampling Method

If corn is to be planted into a sod or set-aside field, or a field where Japanese beetle were noted in high numbers the previous season, soil samples should be taken and examined for white grubs before planting. In the spring, in 5 randomly selected areas, dig up a 2 feet long by 1 foot wide by 6 inches deep (60 x 30 x 15 cm), 1 cubic foot, sample of soil. Place the soil on a piece of black plastic or cloth and carefully search through the soil, counting the number of white grubs found while determining the species. Determine the number of grubs per cubic foot.

Where post-emergence white grub damage is found, look for grubs and damage in 5 randomly selected areas, dig up a 2 feet long by 1 foot wide by 6 inches deep (60 x 30 x 15 cm), area centered over and along the row. Placing the soil and plant samples on black plastic or cloth, look for white grubs and evidence of root pruning. Also, estimate the plant stand that remains in the field.

To determine which species of white grub is present, use the following drawings of rasteral patterns on grubs' posterior ends.

Rasters of different grubs

Management Guidelines

Corn Insect Control Recommendations: E-series 219-W (PDF)

Two or more live white grubs per cubic foot of soil prior to planting may signal a potential problem. Some soil applied insecticides are labeled for white grub control, however, control may be erratic. No insecticides are recommended as rescue treatments. However, if stand reduction, or potential stand reduction is high enough to warrant replanting, a soil insecticide may be needed if the grubs are still actively feeding. Some cultural control techniques, such as crop rotation, weed control, mid-season plowing, and pasturing hogs on infested fields may provide partial control of white grubs.

White grub problems have been noted in fields where corn follows soybean, fields previously in hay or pasture, or fields which had a late season weed problem the previous year. Such fields should be closely watched during tillage operations for the presence of grubs. Bird activity in freshly worked fields could signal the presence of grubs.

If fields were infested with grubs the previous year, they could appear throughout the current growing season if they are May/June beetle grubs. If the previous year's problem was caused by masked chafer or Japanese beetle grubs, it is unlikely they will pose a problem after early June.

The following chart may help when making replant decisions. For example, corn planted on April 25 but with only 16,000 plants per acre because of white grub damage, is at 86% optimum yield. Replanting on May 21 and obtaining a population of 25,000 plants per acre should increase your optimum yield to approximately 95%. Although this is a 9% increase in potential yield, one must consider factors such as seed and machinery/labor costs, hybrid maturity, and extended weather forecasts before replant decisions are made.

Expected Grain yield Due to Various Planting Dates and Population Rates

If control is necessary, contact your state Cooperative Extension Service or click here for control materials and rates.

IPM Tip White Grubs