Desmodium tortuosum (Sw) DC (Papilionaceae) is a preferred wild host of Heliothis virescens (Fabricius) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) which is an important pest of cotton in Tolima, Colombia. From November 1976 until March 1979, cotton and D. tortuosum were compared and contrasted in the field as hosts of the pest. A very high infestation level of H. virescens in cotton in 1977 was preceded by an extremely low infestation level of the insect in D. tortuosum previous to the cotton-growing season. In 1978 and 1979 moderate infestation levels in cotton were preceded by moderately low infestation levels of H. virescens in D. tortuosum previous to the cotton growing season in both years.
Progressively less eggs were laid on cotton versus D. tortuosum as the cotton plants aged. Peak numbers of H. virescens occurred during the latter part of the cropping season and immediately after. A mean of 13% of first-instar larvae of H. virescens on D. tortuosum were found stuck by the glandular trichomes of the plant. On cotton significantly more eggs were found during the week of full moon than new moon or first quarter. Apparent sterility and pre-hatch mortality of eggs of H. virescens varied between 1–5 and 0 and 7%, respectively, for both hosts combined.
Egg parasitism by Trichogramma sp. (Hymenoptera: Trichogrammatidae) in cotton was 1.5% in 1977, presumably due to excess use of pesticides, and 23.5% in 1978 when pesticides were not used much. Parasitism of eggs on D. tortuosum by the same parasite averaged 1%; the glandular trichomes of D. tortuosum trapped and killed adult Trichogramma.
The fact that infestation levels of H. virescens in cotton were very high in the year that they were very low in D. tortuosum previous to the cotton-growing season, and moderate in cotton during 2 years that they were not as low previously in D. tortuosum suggests that the continued presence of the pest many aid its natural regulation, perhaps by providing a source of hosts to H. virescens specific parasites.
If relative levels of oviposition in cotton could be predicted by lunar cycles this would aid in planning control strategies, such as massive liberations of egg parasites and more intensive monitoring of infestation levels during predicted peak periods.