Helicoverpa armigera (Hu¨ bner) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae: Heliothinae) is among the most voracious global pests of agriculture. Adults of this species were identified recently in northern Argentina by dissection of male genitalia. In this work, a rapid and simple molecular tool was designed to distinguish H. armigera from the morphologically similar indigenous bollworms Helicoverpa zea (Boddie) and Helicoverpa gelotopoeon (Dyar), regardless of the life stage. Amplification of partial COI gene with a new primer pair, and subsequent digestion with endonuclease HinfI, yielded different RFLP profiles for the three main Helicoverpa pests currently present in South America. The method was validated in Helicoverpa specimens collected across Argentina, whose identity was further corroborated by COI sequencing and phylogenetic analysis. The data reported here constitute the first molecular confirmation of this pest in the country. The survey revealed the occurrence of H. armigera in northern and central Argentina, including the main soybean- and maize-producing area.
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