The fall armyworm is a polyphagous pest that is indigenous throughout the Americas. Recently, it has been found in Africa too. The caterpillars of fall armyworms feed on the leaves, stems and reproductive parts of more than 100 plant species causing major damage to cultivated grasses, such as maize, rice, sorghum and sugarcane, as well as other crops, including cabbage, beet, peanut, soybean, alfalfa, onion, cotton, pasture grasses, millet, tomato, potato and cotton.
Fall armyworm moths generally disperse in a radius of about 500 km (300 miles) before oviposition, which is sufficient for them to move from seasonally dry habitats to wet habitats in Central America. This makes it possible for fall armyworms to spread over large areas rapidly. Adults fly by night, and are attracted to lights, especially those with a strong ultra-violet component.