AN exotic plant pest with the potential to cause serious crop damage has been detected for the first time in Australia.
The fall armyworm had been found in a network of surveillance traps on the northern Torres Strait islands of Saibai and Erub.
Adult moths of fall armyworm were detected in surveillance traps monitored by the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy.
These traps were set up as part of preparedness activities for early detection as fall armyworm is a strong flyer and has been spreading rapidly through South East Asian countries in recent months.
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment head of biosecurity Lyn O'Connell said the caterpillar stage of the fall armyworm damages many crops across Africa and Asia vital to human food security, such as rice, maize and sorghum.
"Fall armyworm is a serious agricultural pest," Mr O'Connell said.
"The larval or caterpillar stage of the fall armyworm can feed on a wide variety of crops causing large economic loss, and it has the potential to impact on our native and garden plants."
Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said the discovery of the invasive moth pest showed how critical it was to protect Queensland's agricultural industries.
"Fall armyworm is an invasive moth pest that feeds in large numbers on more than 350 plant species, causing major damage to economically important cultivated grasses such as maize, rice, sorghum, sugarcane and wheat, and also to other horticultural crops and cotton," Mr Furner said.
"Those industries support thousands of Queensland jobs so it is vital that we work together to ensure it is eradicated.
"Biosecurity Queensland is working with other Australian governments and industry groups to manage the threat posed by fall armyworm and respond appropriately."
Biosecurity Queensland general manager plant biosecurity and product integrity Mike Ashton said fall armyworm had been found on Erub and Saibai islands.
He said seven specimens of the pest were found in late January in traps set on the islands.
Mr Ashton said said fall armyworm larvae were most active during late summer and early autumn months, but may be active year-round in tropical areas.
"Fall armyworm larvae are light coloured with a larger darker head. As they develop, they become browner with white lengthwise stripes and also develop dark spots with spines," Mr Ashton said.
"Adult moths are 32 to 40mm in length wing tip to wing tip, with a brown or grey forewing and a white hind wing.
"Male fall armyworm adults have more patterns and a distinct white spot on each of their forewings.
"Growers should have on-farm biosecurity measures in place to protect their crops from pests and diseases."
Mr Ashton said fall armyworm was first detected outside its native range in early 2016 and has spread to Africa, the Indian subcontinent, China and Southeast Asia.
"The pest is a strong flier and is believed to have covered most of its geographical range through natural dispersal but can also be spread through the movement of infested plant material.
"The community, industry and agronomists are encouraged to report any unexpected symptoms in the field by phoning the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881."