Why is fruit fly a problem?

While there are a wide range of insects that you might find in your garden, both pests and beneficial species, the larvae (or maggots) of fruit flies are amongst the most despised for the way they can turn some fruits and vegetables into a soft, mushy mess. The adult female fruit fly lay eggs in the flesh of ripening and ripe fruits and vegetables. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae begin to feed within the fruit, causing it to rot and drop to the ground.

There are two main species of fruit flies within Australia: Queensland fruit fly (Bactrocera tryoni is its scientific name) occurs in the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria and is an Australian native species; and Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata) occurs only in Western Australia, mostly in the south-western parts. See more information on the pest species.

The potential impact of fruit flies

An apricot affected by fruit fly, showing the larvae and damage done to fruit

Australia’s horticultural production is valued at over $9 billion and employs over 60,000 people. However, a large proportion of that production is susceptible to attack by fruit flies. As a result, commercial producers around Australia collective spend hundred of millions of dollars on various control measures and also suffer production losses.
In severe cases, fruit fly maggots can be found in a large proportion of a harvested crop, even every harvested fruit. In this case the crop is considered worthless. While in a home situation it might be possible to cut away small sections of affected fruit, this isn’t possible on a commercial scale.

Many crops that are considered hosts are only susceptible under certain circumstances, and commercial producers take rigorous steps to keep the fruit they produce and sell free from damage. However, even the potential that fruit could be carrying these damaging pests results in many markets requiring expensive treatments before allowing fruit to enter their state or country. These treatments can be a large part of the cost of supplying fruit and vegetables to domestic and international markets.

How do fruit flies impact on the home gardener?

  • The presence of fruit flies in your area limits the range of crops that you can grow in your garden without using fruit fly control methods.
  • Suffering heavy losses to fruit fly damage can be very disappointing for you when it occurs and limits the quantity and quality of fruit and vegetables that you have at home or can share with family and friends.
  • While control methods are not necessarily expensive or difficult, they do take time, effort and commitment throughout the year.
  • Trying out different ways to control fruit flies can be frustrating and cause inconvenience, particularly if the result is not satisfactory.

How do fruit flies impact on fruit production industries?

  • Fruit fly outbreaks in areas that are normally free of these pests can cause hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lost income and eradication costs.
  • Controlling fruit flies can be a major expense for large scale commercial producers, leading to higher prices for consumers.
  • Infested fruit is not suitable for sale, therefore reducing orchard productivity. In severe cases, entire crops can be made worthless.
  • The imposition of interstate and international quarantine conditions either limits market access opportunities or makes it more expensive.

Which crops are attacked by fruit fly?

Fruit flies attack and damage most kinds of soft skinned fruits and some harder skinned commodities. Crops such as summerfruit, citrus, apples, pears, loquats, berries, grapes, olives, persimmons, tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, and mangoes can all be attacked. A broader list of fruit fly hosts is available from Agriculture Victoria.

Fruit Fly Host List (agriculture.vic.gov.au)


Learn more about the threat of fruit flies

The Pest Species

Queensland fruit fly

Mediterranean fruit fly

Exotic fruit fly threats

Apple Maggot (Rhagoletis pomonella)
Photo by Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org

Non-pest species

Drosophila melanogaster – vinegar fly
By André Karwath aka Aka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

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