PoPotato tuberworms are mainly associated with potatoes; however, they have been observed feeding on other plants such as tomatoes, eggplants (Solanum melongena L.), peppers (Capsicum spp.), tobacco, and wild solanaceous plants like Jimson weed or datura (Datura stramonium L.) (Alvarez et al. 2005). In the Pacific northwest, potato tuberworms have only been reported infesting potatoes (Rondon et al. 2007).
Larvae feed on potato leaves, stems, petioles, and more importantly potato tubers in the field and in storage. The newly hatched larvae create mines on leaves by feeding on leaf tissue while leaving the upper and lower epidermis of the leaf intact. They prefer feeding on young foliage (Trivedi and Rajagopal 1992). Typical damage results from larvae boring tunnels in tubers. Larvae depositing their excreta make tubers unfit for consumption. Potato tuber eyes become pink due to deposition of silk and excrement by potato tuberworm infestation. Severe infestations result in yield and quality losses during storage where previously infested tubers are stored with healthy potato tubers (Malakar and Tingey 2006, Rondon 2010). This generally destroys the entire crop of stored potatoes.
Most economic damage occurs to potato tubers in storage conditions in developing countries and is caused by larval feeding. Presence of even one larva is sufficient to spoil and destroy a tuber. Rapidly moving caterpillars penetrate the tubers, form galleries coated with silken threads and eject frass outside the tuber. On leaves, caterpillars form galleries and then penetrate other plant parts. After two to three weeks, caterpillars leave the plant (caterpillars can move through cracks in soil) and pupate on walls of potato bags lying in potato fields. Fungi, bacteria, and mites can develop inside the tunnels made by the larvae, which causes the tubers to rot and emit an unpleasant smell.
Stored crop losses in potatoes ranging from 50% in Yemen and Peru, 86% in Tunisia, Algeria, and Turkey, 90% in Kenya, and 100% in India and the Philippines have been reported (Alvarez et al. 2005). In Egypt, potato tuber moth has caused up to 100% losses to potato plants in fields as well as in storage (Ahmed et al. 2013). Potato tuber moth is also a pest of tomatoes where larvae damage the leaves, stem and the unripe fruits.