• Australothis rubrescens;
  • Helicoverpa armigera;
  • Helicoverpa punctigera;
  • host plant relationships;
  • polyphagy;
  • primary host plants

Abstract Potential host plants of the polyphagous lepidopteran Helicoverpa punctigera (Wallengren) were surveyed in two ways. A broad survey, conducted in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, indicated that H. punctigera larvae were present on relatively few plant species. A detailed survey of host plant use in a non-cropping area in which H. punctigera was numerous demonstrated restricted host plant use by this species. The density of H. punctigera on its principal host in the area, the indigenous daisy Ixiolaena brevicompta F. Muell., was much higher (as measured per unit of time searched) than on other plant species available. Also, I. brevicompta was used regularly by H. punctigera after rainfall events. Ixiolaena brevicompta represents a new host record and on the basis of the pattern of its use by H. punctigera should be considered a ‘primary host plant’ of this noctuid. In cropping areas sampled, usually more than one plant species hosted H. punctigera regularly and in large numbers. Usually a crop species was included (e.g. cotton and chick pea). Alternative hosts in cropping areas were Sonchus oleraceus L. (sowthistle) and possibly the native legume Sesbania cannabina (Retz.) Poiret. Our results imply that the polyphagy of H. punctigera is probably not as extensive as previously claimed. The criteria for inclusion of a plant species as a primary host for H. punctigera need to include the regularity of use of that species and the relative abundance of eggs and larvae on it. We suggest that an understanding of the host-searching mechanism of this species will be best achieved through study of the interaction of H. punctigera with its indigenous primary hosts. The surveys also yielded information on host plants of two other heliothine noctuids, H. armigera (Hübner) and Australothis rubrescens (Walker), and this is also presented.