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Rice pink stem borer (409) Print Fact Sheet

Common Name

Pink stem borer; also known as the Asiatic pink stem borer or the purple stem borer.

Scientific Name

Sesamia inferens. A moth in the Noctuidae.


Restricted. South and Southeast Asia, North America (Hawaii), Oceania. It is recorded from Guam, Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands.


Rice, maize, millet, sorghum, sugarcane, wheat, and many grasses and some sedges, e.g., Coix lacryma-jobi (Job's tears), Echinochloa colona (jungle rice), Panicum repens (torpedo grass), Setaria pumila (yellow foxtail), and others.

Symptoms & Life Cycle

The larvae do the damage, similar to other species of rice borer (see Fact Sheet nos. 408, 410, 411). The larvae tunnel into the stems towards the base of the plant, causing it to wilt and die, a condition known as 'deadheart'. The stems are easily pulled out (Photo 3). Feeding at the base of the panicles may prevent emergence, or result in white unfilled grain of those that have emerged, a symptom known as 'whitehead' (Photo 4).

Eggs are laid between the leaf sheaths and stem, up to 100 in rows; they are almost round, creamy-white, later turning pink and black before hatching. Often, the larvae disperse onto nearby tillers after hatching. They are white at first, but when mature deep pink with an orange head, and 25-35 mm long. Pupation occurs in a larval tunnel, but it can occur between leaf sheath and stem. If in a tunnel, the larvae cut an exist hole for the adult. Usually the external opening of the exit hole is covered with fine web and cannot be easily seen from the outside.

Adults have a pale yellow-brown body, with thick brown tuft of hair over head and thorax. Wingspans of males are from 28 mm male, and females from 35 mm. Forewings are light brown, hindwings are whitish. The antennae differ between the sexes: male antennae are feather-like, females antennae are long and thin. Adults are noturnal and strong flyers. The life-cycle is about 55 days in tropical countries, and there may be six generations a year.


Sesamia inferens is considered one of the least destructive of the group that attack rice. Outbreaks in rice are usually late in the crop, and occur when sugarcane and maize are growing nearby and become infested.

In Asia, the most destructive and widely distributed stem borers are the yellow stem borer, Scirpophaga incertulas, the striped stem borer, Chilo suppressalis, the white stem borer, Scirpophaga innotata, the darkheaded stem borer, Chilo polychrysus, and the pink borer, Sesamia inferens. Rice plants can compensate the damage caused by stem borers up to the stage of maximum tillering; however, infestation during panicle initiation and ear emergence, can cause a loss in yield.

Detection & Inspection

Look for deadhearts and whiteheads at the vegetative and flowering stages, respectively. Look for eggs between leaf sheaths and stems, and frass, larvae and pupae in the stems. It is suggested (CABI) that the presence of eggs would be the most useful to monitor, and all stem borer species should be counted. A threshold of 1-2 egg masses per m2 during i) stem elongation, and ii) during panicle extension would warrant action.


Countries not yet infested by the pink stem borer should consider all likely pathways for entry, and apply quarantine measures accordingly. Many countries throughout Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania are at risk. Pathways of introduction are likely to be via produce contaminated by pieces of stem of the many hosts infested by larvae or pupae.

There are many predators (e.g. grasshoppers, crickets and ladybird beetles) and parasitoids that attack the pink stem borer. Parasitoids of eggs, larvae and pupae. The egg parasitoids TelenomusTetrastichus, and Trichogramma are the most important. Taiwan and the Philippines have introducted the tachnid fly, Stumiopsis inferens. However, CABI's conclusion is that further introductions are probably not necessary as most countries have sufficient: importantly, the aim should be to conserve those that exist by limiting insecticide use. But note, biocontrol at the egg stage needs to be very high because the moth reproduces rapidly. 

Sesamia inferens usually occurs with other rice stem borers, e.g., Chilo and Scirpophaga species and is controlled by the same measures applied to them.

Before planting:

During growth:

After harvest:

Modern rice varieties that are relatively thin-stemmed, short, high tillering, and early maturing, may result in less damage from this moth, and stem borers generally. This aspect is important as well-grown, vigorous crops can withstand 20% deadhearts and 10% whiteheads before yeild is affected.

It is unlikely that chemical control would be effective because eggs are laid between the leaf sheaths and stem and difficult to reach. Systemic products might have greater impact, but are lilkely to be more expensive, and perhaps uneconomic. There is also the risk of destroying natueral enemies. If chemicals are needed:

When using a pesticide, always wear protective clothing and follow the instructions on the product label, such as dosage, timing of application, and pre-harvest interval.

AUTHOR Grahame Jackson
Information (and Photo 4) from Rice Knowledge Bank. IRRI. (; and CABI Scirpopaga nivella (2019) Crop Protection Compendium. (; and Walker, K (2005) Asiatic pink stem borer (Sesamia inferens). PaDIL - (; and from Pathak MD, Khan ZR (1994) Insect Pests of Rice. IRRI/ICIPE. Photos 1&2 Pest and Diseases Image Library, Photo 3 Anderson S, Tran-Nguyen L (2012) Gold-fringed Rice Borer (Chilo auricilius).  (Source: N. Sallam DAFF Biosecurity.) PaDIL - (

Produced with support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research under project HORT/2016/185: Responding to emerging pest and disease threats to horticulture in the Pacific islands, implemented by the University of Queensland and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

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