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NC State Extension

Cotton Terminology

Jack Bacheler, Entomology Extension Specialist

A chemical, usually an insecticide, that is targeted toward the adult stage.
An insecticide that is active against aphids.
beat cloth
A square (typically 3 feet by 3 feet) or rectangular piece of usually light-colored cloth or synthetic sheeting (i.e., Tyvek material) with dowels at opposite ends; used to assess insect populations by catching them when plants are beaten or shaken over the device, which is normally unrolled and placed on the ground between rows. Also called a shake cloth or ground cloth.
beet armyworm
(Spodoptera exigua) An armyworm species whose damage to cotton is characterized by leaf skeletonizing by early instars feeding in groups, often associated with webbing and frass. Later instar larvae may feed on squares and bolls and are difficult to control with insecticides; eggs are deposited in masses; adults are migratory and do not overwinter in the Carolinas.
beneficial arthropods
A general group of insects and their cousins (predatory mites and spiders) that either consume (predator) or live within (parasite) the host insect.
bloom tag
The dried brown cotton bloom that sticks to the tip (or, at times, off to one side) of the young boll; more frequent in dry weather; sometimes provides a refuge under which young bollworms or tobacco budworms develop protected from beneficial insects and insecticides. Inexperienced scouts sometimes tend to oversample young bolls having a bloom tag. The sampling of bloom-tagged bolls should be carried out in proportion to their percentage of the total boll population.
blooming out the top
A cotton growth state characterized by the presence of first-position blooms almost entirely in the upper canopy of the cotton plant. This occurrence may indicate premature cutout of the crop. Often called bumblebee cotton when this condition occurs abnormally early on short, stressed cotton.
Large, showy, off-white flowers that arise from buds (squares) and typically last only one day, becoming pinkish on the second and brown on subsequent days; they usually fall from the new, developing boll on days three to five. Cotton blooms are at times attractive sites for bollworm egg deposition, western flower and other thrips, and fall armyworms. Blooms in the tops of cotton plants (blooming out the top or bumblebee cotton) often indicate very dry weather or that the crop is cutting out.
boll weevil
(Anthonomous grandis) A small brownish to grayish weevil that survives the winter as an adult and invades cotton in the spring to infest one-third grown cotton squares, causing fruit abortion via feeding or egg punctures; completes life cycle within fallen squares in 2 ½ to 3 weeks. A major pest of cotton in North Carolina before the beginning of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program in 1978, which has successfully eliminated this pest. May undergo three to four generations per year in the Carolinas.
Bollgard cotton
A cotton variety that has been genetically altered to express an endotoxin (Bacillus thuringiensis) that is active against some caterpillar pests, such as tobacco budworms, bollworms, and European corn borers. Also called Bt cotton.
Bollgard II cotton
A cotton variety that has two “stacked” (or “pyramided”) genes that each encode for the expression of separate endotoxins (Bacillus thuringiensis; Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab proteins) that are effective against a wide spectrum of caterpillar pests and offer enhanced activity against bollworms, compared to Bollgard.
(Helicoverpa zea) The larval or caterpillar stage of the corn earworm moth. Typically North Carolina’s most significant cotton pest, primarily infesting fruit (squares, blooms, and bolls). Undergoes three to four generations annually in the Carolinas, with the first two developing primarily in field corn and the third on cotton, soybeans, peanuts, and other crops. Also called soybean podworm and tomato fruitworm, depending upon host.
The three modified leaves at the base of the cotton fruit. Bracts typically surround developing squares, affording some protection to bollworms and other pests from beneficial insects and insecticides; must be opened to reveal developing square when monitoring fruit for damage.
brown stink bug
(Euschistus servus) A brownish, medium-sized member of the stink bug family (Pentatomidae) that usually undergoes a generation on hosts, such as corn and other grass species, before moving into cotton, often during boll formation. Feeding by adults and large nymphs with needle-like stylets, often on bolls of all sizes, causes small, rounded, dark spots on the exterior carpel wall; feeding can transmit hardlock organism, resulting in unharvestable bolls and low-quality lint. Brown stink bugs are more difficult to control with pyrethroids than green stink bugs. This species’ life cycle (egg to adult) typically takes 40 days.
BXN cotton
A cotton variety that has been genetically altered to tolerate the herbicide Buctril (bromoxynil).
Outer protective covering of the flower bud (square); the leaf-like green segment also called sepals.
The foliage of a cotton crop; said to be closed when plant growth of adjacent rows closes over and shades row middles; direct sunlight penetration between rows constitutes an opened canopy.
A class of chemicals, usually insecticides, that inhibits cholinesterase, resulting in unregulated nerve-ending activation and paralysis in insects (e.g., Temik, Sevin, Larvin).
carpel wall
The thick outer walls of the boll. If insects (e.g., bollworms, green stink bugs) penetrate them, they may cause damage to locks (see definition) or may cause boll rot, translating into lost yield or lower lint quality.
The immature damaging stage of a butterfly or moth. Larva is the general term for immature stages of moths (caterpillars), flies (maggots), beetles (grubs), and others.
An individual licensed by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, who is trained to interpret information and make recommendations.
cotton aphid
(Aphis gossypii) The aphid species most commonly associated with outbreaks on cotton in the Southeast; has many generations per year and is often resistant to various classes of insecticides; typically subject to heavy mortality via predation and parasitism; also called the melon aphid.
In dicotyledonous plant species, the initial growth stage characterized by the presence of “seed leaves.” These leaves were initially contained in the seed and provide food for seed germination.
cumulative threshold
The point at which consecutive scouting assessments of subthreshold levels of the same species justify treatment.
Final stage of cotton plant growth before boll opening; characterized by the predominance of more mature fruit, general absence of squares and blooms, and cessation of new terminal growth. According to more recent terminology, cotton is approaching cutout at five nodes above white bloom and is generally considered to be cutout at three nodes above white bloom. Cotton blooming out the top is considered cutout.
A harvest-aid material applied to the cotton plant to accelerate leaf drop in preparation for harvest (see defoliation).
The loss of leaves from the cotton plant; may be damaging and happen prematurely (i.e., soybean loopers consuming cotton plant leaves before cutout or leaf loss caused by a potassium deficiency) or naturally (the predictable loss of leaves of all deciduous plants).
A single cell or ovum from an ovary; the first stage of an insect or mite; may be deposited singly (e.g., bollworm) or in a mass (e.g., European corn borer).
European corn borer
(Ostrinia nubilalis) A recent pest of cotton in the Southeast where corn is planted, this boring caterpillar passes its initial two generations on corn, potatoes, wheat, and various weed species in North Carolina; the third and a partial fourth generation can be damaging to cotton, primarily because the pest bores into medium to large bolls and to a lesser extent into stems; female moths deposit small, fish scale-like egg masses deep within the plant canopy and on the underside of cotton leaves. Egg masses are difficult to find.
fall armyworm
(Spodoptera frugiperda) A migratory species that does not overwinter in the Carolinas; larvae hatch from egg masses often deposited in the upper third of the cotton plant, often on the underside of leaves but also in the terminal area; small larvae typically etch the bracts of medium and large bolls before penetrating the carpel walls, often at the base of the boll. Fall armyworm larvae are also often associated with blooms. Medium to large established larvae are difficult to kill with insecticides.
foliar feeding
On cotton: (1) leaf consumption, usually by caterpillars; (2) the feeding of nutrients, such as nitrogen-containing fertilizer, to the cotton plant via a liquid applied to the foliage.
A term applied to insect feces, the shape of which is sometimes used in family- or species-level identification; also called fecal pellets or droppings.
Refers to cotton squares (or flower buds), blooms, and bolls; reproductive parts of the plant. Cotton fruit is susceptible to a wide range of insect pests.
fruiting branch
Lateral branch of a cotton plant, typically arising from the fourth through eighth node and higher on the plant; has fruiting position at each node; sympodium or reproductive branch.
fruiting position
Any main stem, vegetative branch, or fruiting branch location on which fruit is either present or aborted.
A material used to control or kill fungi.
green stink bug
(Acrosternum hilare) A large green member of the stink bug family (Pentatomidae) that usually undergoes a generation on wild hosts, such as elderberry and wild cherry, before moving into cotton, often during boll formation. Feeding by adults and large nymphs with needle-like stylets, often on bolls of all sizes, causes small, rounded, dark spots on the exterior carpel wall; feeding can transmit hardlock organism, resulting in unharvestable bolls and low-quality lint. This species’ life cycle (egg to adult) typically takes 30 to 35 days.
A material used to kill weeds. In cotton the material usually is characterized by (1) timing: “PPI” (prior to planting and incorporated), “pre” (prior to plant emergence from soil), and “post” (after plant emergence); or by (2) application type: “broadcast” (applied evenly over an area), “banded” (applied over a portion of the total area), or “directed” (targeted at a specific area), usually toward the base of the cotton plant.
insect growth regulator
 A compound, either natural or synthetic, that influences insect growth and development (e.g., Dimilin affects boll weevil grub integument formation during shed, resulting in deformed pupae and adults or premature death). Often referred to by its acronym, IGR.
A material that kills insects.
Stage of nymph (e.g., stink bug) or larva (e.g., bollworm) between molts.
The portion of the main stem between nodes; in cotton it is often used as an indicator of growth, i.e., a greater internode length indicates faster growth and the possible need of a growth regulator capable of slowing growth, such as Pix.
A legally binding document affixed to every pesticide container outlining the product’s constituents, amount of active ingredients, primary uses, precautions, and Worker Protection Standard (WPS) information.
The immature stage of an insect with four distinct metamorphic stages (e.g., cabbage looper: egg, larva [caterpillar], pupa, and adult).
A compound that kills the larval stage of insects.
A final, typically post-directed herbicide application designed to eliminate or suppress weeds through harvest time.
Liberty Link cotton
A cotton variety that has been genetically altered to tolerate the herbicide Liberty (glufosinate).
light trap
A device consisting of at least an ultraviolet light (which is attractive to a number of night-flying insects) and a collection container. Used to monitor the timing and relative abundance of selected insect species (e.g., bollworm and European corn borer).
The major, individual, internal section of a cotton boll in which seed and lint development take place; four or sometimes five locks per boll are typical.
match-head square
Early stage of growth when the flower bud (excluding the outer bracts) reaches approximately the size of a large kitchen match head.
A term applied to an insect species that undergoes long-range movement, sometimes hundreds of miles (e.g., fall armyworms do not overwinter in the Carolinas but rely instead on annual, long-range, northward movement by consecutive generations “hopscotching” from the southern United States). It can also refer to shorter, more localized flights or transport (e.g., the migration of thrips from alternative hosts to cotton).
A group of small, active, non-insect arthropods, some of which are predators of other mites and small insects (e.g., thrips); most species are plant feeding. The two-spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae) is the predominant mite on cotton in the Southeast, typically more of a problem under hot, dry conditions, and damages cotton plants by rasping mostly lower leaf cells; populations are often reduced by naturally occurring fungi, particularly under humid conditions.
A material that kills mites.
multipest threshold
The point at which the combined effects of subthreshold levels of two or more pests justify treatment.
A class of fermentation products called spinosads derived from an ascomycetous fungus, which is active against Lepidoptera and selected members of other insect families and some mite species.
A point, usually along the main stem, at which lateral vegetative and fruiting branches arise.
nodes above cracked boll
Term applied to the number of mainstem nodes from the highest first position cracked boll to the plant terminal (often used as a method of assisting with measurements of cotton readiness for defoliation).
nodes above white bloom
Term applied to the number of mainstem nodes from the last developed first-position white bloom to the plant terminal; used as a measure of plant growth (e.g., to assist in growth regulator assessments or as an index of degree of “cutout”). All plants will not have a first-position white bloom.
A class of organic, phosphorus-containing insecticides that inhibit cholinesterase, causing excess nerve activation, paralysis, and eventual death; some insecticides in this class with a high phosphorus content (e.g., methyl parathion) may delay cotton crop maturity if applied at an early stage; abbreviated OP.
 A material that kills the egg stage of an organism.
An organism that lives wholly off and often feeds within another organism (called a host); with most insect species, insect parasites usually kill their hosts and are referred to as parasitoids.
pheromone trap
A trap that uses either a natural or, more typically, a synthetic insect sex attractant pheromone; these traps are usually species specific.
pinhead square
In practice, this misnomer most often applies to match-head squares. Pinhead squares are just visible to the naked eye.
plant bugs
Small, active, dark brown bugs with piercing-sucking mouthparts. The mouthparts make tiny needle-like holes in small squares, causing darkening and abortion. At high population levels, terminal feeding may result in unusual upper growth (crazy cotton) and loss of apical dominance; late in the season, high levels of plant bugs can also damage larger squares, blooms, and small bolls.
plant growth regulator
A substance applied to cotton plants that affects growth or aging (e.g., Pix and Prep); abbreviated PGR.
plant map
A precise, prescribed manner of recording, or mapping, cotton plant growth that shows the location and stage of fruit by its position on each node of all vegetative and fruiting branches. Plant maps are often used to determine nodes above white bloom, nodes above cracked boll, and fruit retention and to compartmentalize and compare fruit retention on selected horizontal or vertical zones of the cotton plant. Modified mapping systems are available that focus on particular vertical zones of cotton, such as first position only.
point sampling
A scouting method that relies on randomly selecting a prescribed number of sites or points within a cotton field for intensive scouting of a predetermined number of plants or feet of row (best suited to uniform fields).
Herbicide placement after seedling emergence directed to the base of cotton plants; better control if cotton has grown significantly taller than weeds (e.g., Bladex).
postemergence over the top
Herbicides applied directly over the canopy of both cotton and weeds; sometimes represents a salvage treatment following inadequate PPI or preemergence weed control; some compounds may cause maturity delays and yield reductions (e.g., Cotoran).

An organism that kills and consumes another (its prey); a number of small predator insects can provide significant natural control of several pests.
A term most often referring to broadleaf herbicides applied at or after planting but before seedling emergence; “pre” herbicides (e.g., Zorial).
preplant incorporated
Refers mostly to grass and small-seeded broadleaf herbicides (but also some other weed species such as nutsedge) applied and incorporated before planting; PPI herbicides (e.g., Treflan).
The compact, often protected, resting stage of an insect preceding the adult stage (bollworms overwinter in the pupal stage under the soil surface).
pyramided genes
See stacked genes.
A class of insecticides characterized by very low mammalian toxicity and high insect control at low usage rates.
random sampling
A scouting method that relies on continuous inspections throughout most of a cotton field; better suited for regions with variable soils within fields.
A term signifying tall, vegetative cotton growth; often a result of late planting, excessive nitrogen fertilizer, fertile soils, or excessive moisture. Rank growth often renders cotton plants more attractive and susceptible to late-season insects, more susceptible to boll rot, and more difficult to defoliate.
In cotton insect management, an area used to maintain the production of susceptible insect populations. A refugia is a crop or host area that is left untreated with an insecticide or type of technology so that adults that are resistant to the chemical or chemical class in question will have a high probability of mating with the higher number of refugia-produced, susceptible adults, thus producing susceptible offspring. For example, to preserve the effectiveness of Bt cotton, a certain acreage of non-Bt cotton must be set aside to produce enough Bt-susceptible adult bollworms and tobacco budworms to mate with a high enough proportion of the Bt-produced resistant individuals to maintain a population of budworms and bollworms susceptible to Bt cotton.
restricted entry interval
The mandatory period of time a person must wait between application of a chemical and entry to the treated area.
Roundup Ready
Trademark term applied to varieties that have been genetically altered to be tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate.
The portion of a population collected in a prescribed manner upon which a judgment is made about the entire population.
An individual trained to collect information about cotton insect and plant populations; scouts are not responsible for interpreting data or providing recommendations.
The procedures followed by a scout.
A type of insect damage characterized by insect feeding on leaf areas between veins; it can result in a lacy appearance to the leaf.
soybean looper
(Pseudoplusia includens) A light-green, defoliating caterpillar; migratory adults overwinter in the southern United States or Caribbean basin and typically arrive in the Carolinas in late summer or fall.
The flower bud of a cotton plant with a central corolla containing the pollen anthers and sepals and surrounded by three (or sometimes four) bracts; squares are often a preferred site of insect feeding, e.g., plant bugs, boll weevils, bollworms.
square retention
The proportion of squares, usually expressed as a percentage, retained by the cotton plant (often employed early in the growth of a cotton plant as an index of plant development).
Using two or more genes in a cotton variety for expression of similar characteristics (Bollgard II will use two Bt genes to express different endotoxins for caterpillar control) or dissimilar characteristics (Bollgard gene plus Roundup Ready gene for herbicide tolerance to Roundup herbicide).
stacked genes (or pyramided genes)
Two or more genes inserted into the plant’s DNA that express similar (though enhanced) activity (e.g., two genes that encode for separate Bacillus thuringiensis endotoxin expression in the same variety, such as in Bollgard II or Widestrike, or two genes that express different activities in the same variety, such as Bollgard caterpillar resistance plus Roundup Ready glyphosate tolerance).
starter fertilizer
Fertilizer placed close to the seed, usually at planting; also called “pop-up” fertilizer.
sweep net
A sturdy net composed of a 15-inch (standard size) rigid wire support and a heavy-duty cloth bag used to “sweep” across the upper canopy of cotton plants to assess insect populations.
A pesticide that is taken up through the roots or leaf tissues into the cells of the cotton plant (as opposed to remaining on the surface), often in concentrations high enough to cause a biological change (e.g., a systemic might be an at-planting soil insecticide taken up by cotton seedling roots and transported through the plant’s vascular system to suppress or kill leaf-feeding thrips, or it might be Roundup herbicide absorbed into the vascular system of weeds and translocated to the root zone in high enough concentrations to kill the weed).
The dominant, upper mainstem part of a cotton plant containing three to four expanding leaves and developing squares; if they are all retained, the number of squares typically is identical to the number of leaves; also called “apex.”
The point at which an action is taken; often applied to insects. (Most thresholds are action thresholds; an action is taken when a level or number of eggs or caterpillars is reached. It can also be an economic threshold, which takes the commodity value and treatment cost into consideration.)
Tiny, active insects of the order Thysanoptera, which move in high numbers primarily into seedling cotton, often because their alternative hosts are drying up.
tobacco budworm
(Heliothis virescens) A caterpillar pest of primarily squares and bolls; a close relative of the corn earworm. It undergoes three to four generations annually and often is the predominant species of the bollworm/budworm complex in June in the Carolinas. Mid South populations of tobacco budworms have developed resistance to all major classes of insecticides.
transgenic cotton
Cotton that has been genetically altered by recombinant DNA techniques to express tolerance to either herbicides (e.g., Roundup Ready, BXN) or insect pests (e.g., Bollgard against tobacco budworms).
vegetative branch
Lateral branch on a cotton plant that does not have a fruit at each node; fruiting branches, however, can develop from vegetative branches. Vegetative branches have a terminal and often develop fruiting branches, especially under low plant populations.
vegetative growth
General term for undesirable cotton plant growth, typified by lack of fruit; often tall and rank.
VIP cotton
A cotton variety that has been genetically altered to express an endotoxin that is produced during the vegetative stage of bacterial growth (Vip3A protein) and is effective against a wide spectrum of caterpillar pests. These varieties offer enhanced bollworm control, compared to Bollgard, but low activity against the European corn borer.
weed map
A simple diagram, typically developed in the fall, of a field or field portion showing the location of predominant, economically important weeds; used in planning weed management programs.
A small, white-winged insect with piercing-sucking mouthparts; damages cotton both directly via its sap-feeding and indirectly via voiding honeydew, resulting in “sticky cotton,” a ginning and milling problem.
Widestrike cotton
A cotton variety that has two “stacked” (or “pyramided”) genes that each encode for the expression of separate endotoxins (Bacillus thuringiensis; Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab) that are effective against a wide spectrum of caterpillar pests and offer enhanced activity against bollworms when compared to Bollgard.
See skeletonizing.