Spodoptera frugiperda (J.E. Smith) is a major pest in maize fields in Argentina. However, a sampling method that accounts for spatial pattern and allows reliable pest density estimations is still lacking. This paper addresses the issue of how sampling unit size can influence the characterization of S. frugiperda spatial pattern and the performance of sampling plans. An intensive sampling programme for S. frugiperda larvae was carried out in maize fields from October until March in four growing seasons. On each sampling date, 12 to 20 sampling units were taken at random. Each unit consisted of 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 consecutive plants along a row. The linearized version of the Taylor's power law (TPL) was fitted to mean and variance estimated for each sampling date and data set through least squares regression. In general, b values from TPL were significantly >1 (P<0.05), indicating an aggregated sampling distribution. Regression slopes (b) ranged from 1.28 to 1.48 in small larvae and from 1.06 to 1.24 in large larvae, indicating stronger clumping in the former. TPL parameters were used to develop constant precision sampling plans. The efficiency of these plans in terms of expected total cost (searching and handling sampling units) was very sensitive to the size of the sampling units with small larvae but not with large larvae. The influence of sampling unit size and spatial pattern on TPL parameters and sampling costs is discussed.