BACKGROUND The soybean looper, Thysanoplusia orichalcea (F.), is a polyphagous insect pest of vegetable crops. Indonesian in origin, it has spread to Europe, India, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The identification of an attractant for female T. orichalcea could enable the development of alternative pest management strategies to those provided by insecticides or sex pheromones, which are often only attractive to males. RESULTS Traps baited with synthetic lures derived from Canada thistle, Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop., floral volatiles attracted female T. orichalcea. Phenylacetaldehyde, a floral compound attractive to many Lepidoptera and present in C. arvense, was tested alone as an attractant for the soybean looper and caught significantly more female than male T. orichalcea. Trap catch was greatest when phenylacetaldehyde was combined with five prevalent volatiles present in C. arvense headspace collections: 2-phenylethyl alcohol, methyl salicylate, dimethyl salicylate, benzaldehyde and benzyl alcohol. Twice as many female moths as males were collected. CONCLUSION Successful trapping of female T. orichalcea in either a lure-and-kill or a mass trapping system may offer an effective way to manage its population size.