Wireworms (extended information)

Common names: There are many species of wireworm with similar life cycles. Common names include wireworm, click beetle and elaterid beetle.
Latin names:  Many species from the family Elateridae (prominent genera include Aeolus, Conoderus, Melanotus, Agriotes and Dalopius) and Tenebrionidae (Eleodes species). A particularly important species is Agriotes lineatus (Agriotes segetis, Elater segetis).

Life cycle and description

  • Adult stage: Adult beetles are brownish to black with a hard, elongated, somewhat flat shell, and are 5 to 20mm in length. Adults are active fliers and females burrow into the soil to oviposit. Adults are carnivorous, but are also known to attack the cereal foliage. Adult lifespan can last 10 to 12 months. Adults make an audible clicking noise when flipping over after they have been turned upside down. As a result they are often known as ‘click beetles’.
  • Egg stage: Eggs are tiny, round, and pearly white. Several hundred eggs can be deposited by adult females in moist soil in grassy areas. Eggs are laid singly and widely scattered amongst the soil particles. This stage can last from a few days to a few weeks.
  • Larval stage: Larvae are known as wireworms. Initially wireworms are white, soft and 10mm long. Mature larvae are about 40mm long, shiny, smooth, sluggish, deep yellow or brownish, and hard but flexible. Larvae have three pairs of short, underdeveloped legs, and obvious segmentation. Larval development can take several months to several years depending on the species.
  • Pupal stage: Pupae are white, soft and located in weak cells in the soil.
  • Some species have life cycles that last several years and all life cycle stages can be observed in the soil simultaneously.
  • Diapause of larvae or adult beetles in the ground occurs during cold periods.
  • Larvae migrate vertically and horizontally in the soil according to soil moisture. They are sensitive to heat.


Inspection of soil around damaged seedlings will reveal wireworms. In dry weather, the larvae may be quite deep in the soil.

The adult is often referred to as a ‘click beetle’ as it will make clicking sounds when turned on its back and will continue to flick over until properly upright.

It can be difficult to distinguish between the larvae of wireworms and false wireworms. The last abdominal segment on the false wireworm is short and bluntly pointed compared to that of the wireworm, which is long and sculptured.

Problems with similar symptoms

There are a number of species that cause seedlings to wilt, tiller and lodge, including stem borers and seedcorn maggots.

Why and where it occurs

This pest can survive in practically all soil types but prefers weedy fields. Serious infestation of wireworm is more common when maize follows pasture.

Host range

Extremely varied. Pastures, hay and horticultural crops. Specifically rice, wheat, maize, potatoes, tobacco, carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, cotton, lettuce, melons, peas, beans, cowpeas, sugar beets, firs, garlic, rape, cabbage, turnip rape, sunflower, Jerusalem artichoke, barley, hop, lettuce, flax, lupins, tomato, spruces, peach, rye, clovers and grapevine.

Geograhic distribution

Occurs in all maize-growing areas of the world.


  • Mechanism of damage: Wireworm larvae attack maize seed and bore into roots as plants germinate and grow, resulting in poor crop stand, poor growth, and lodging.
  • When damage is important: Heavy infestations are often confined to a small area, such as a single field or a section of a field. However, if infestation is widespread in a field it can result in extensive crop loss through seedling damage and lodging. Losses are greatest if wireworms destroy seeds before they germinate. As some wireworm species have a life cycle that can last several years, damage can continue for more than one season.
  • Economic importance: Serious economic damage to maize due to wireworms is rare. However, serious infestations can cause significant yield losses.
Management principles


  • Fields should be monitored for the presence of wireworms prior to planting. Serious infestations are common in fields that have been in pasture for several years, as adults prefer to lay eggs in moist soil under grass or weeds. Wireworms prefer moist fields with temperatures above 25۫۫ C.
  • To assess wireworm incidence, sample soil from a core (25cm deep and 15cm wide). The presence of 1 wireworm per sample equates to roughly 20,000 wireworms per acre. If two or more wireworms are found per ten samples prior to planting, then preventative action is recommended.
  • Alternatively, the threshold for chemical control is more then 10 larvae present per square meter of soil or more than 3 present per meter of row-length.
  • Solar-bait stations can be used to monitor wireworms. Two stations per acre are sufficient. Preventative insecticides should be considered if there is an average of one wireworm found per bait station.


  • Cultural control is important for wireworms. Flooding or drying of the soil following harvest will kill many wireworms.
  • Natural enemies such as parasitic nematodes, fungi and birds, should be encouraged.
  • Crop rotation, particularly alfalfa, will help reduce infestation levels.
  • CIMMYT endorses conservation agriculture techniques due to its many advantages. Some resources advise plowing or soil cultivation as a method to kill or expose the insect to predators. However, as the beetles are such good fliers, dispersal is inevitable.
  • Keeping fields weed-free for several weeks prior to sowing will discourage adults from laying eggs.
  • Chemical control can be effective if farmer resources allow. Methods include mixing chemicals with the top several inches of soil, soil fumigants or seed treatments.
  • Once damage has occurred, there is little that can be done.


Bessin, R. and L. Townsend. 2004. Wireworms.  ENTFact-120.  University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service. http://www.uky.edu/Ag/Entomology/entfacts/fldcrops/ef120.htm (18 December 2006).

CAB International. 2002. Crop Protection Compendium. Wallingford, UK: CAB International.

Davidson, R.H. and W.F. Lyon. 1987. Insect Pests of Farm, Garden and Orchard. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Gesell, S. and D.  Calvin. 2002. Wireworms as Pests of Field Crops. Extension Fact Sheets. Pennsylvania State University College of Agricultural Sciences. http://www.ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/wireworms.htm (7 January 2007).

King, A.B. and J.L. Saunders. 1984. The Invertebrate Pests of Annual Food Crops in Central America. London: Overseas Development Admin.

Ortega, A. 1987. Insect pests of Maize: A Guide for Field Identification. Mexico, D.F.: CIMMYT.

Rice, M.E. 1993. Insect Pests of Corn. Iowa: Iowa State University.

Contributors: Gabrielle Turner, David Bergvinson, and Biswanath Das