There are several pests described as 'fruit fly' in Australia. The main one in the eastern states is Queensland
fruit fly (Q fly) Bactrocera tryoni
, which is native to rainforest habitat on the east coast of Australia.
Other pest fruit flies include the Mediterranean fruit fly (Med fly) Ceratitis capitata
, an introduced
species currently only present in WA and the Cucumber fly Bactrocera cucumis
. Cucumber fly is a major
pest of melons, pumpkins and zucchini, it is similar in appearance to Qld fruit fly but is a bit larger. The
fruits most commonly attacked by Q fly and Med fly are figs, cherries, stone fruit, apples, pears, loquats,
guavas, feijoas, tomatoes and capsicum. There are over 200 native species of fruit fly in Australia, only a
few are a problem for gardeners but can be a very significant one.
Suggested Organic Strategies:
- Increase habitats for predators, such as ants, ground beetles, spiders and birds.
- Clean up all infected fruit as soon as possible. To destroy the maggots, immerse fruit in water or even
better place in a pot, bring to the boil and then feed it to poultry, or try placing fruit in a sealed,
black plastic bag in the sun.
- Use your orchard as a poultry forage area, to aid fruit fly control.
- Select early fruiting trees, to miss the onslaught of fruit fly.
- Grow dwarf varieties or keep trees small.
The tiny flies that hover around the fruit bowl are fungal gnats,
not fruit flies.
Organic Fruit Fly Control
© Frances Michaels
Fruit fly is responsible for more bad language from gardeners than any other pest. If you are lucky enough to
live in a fruit fly free zone then count your blessings and do your bit to keep it that way. If you live in
fruit fly zone, unless you are prepared to put in effort from year to year then a chainsaw may be your best
solution. Fruit fly is a pest that needs a community approach; it could be the perfect opportunity to meet
your neighbours for a street BBQ so you can plan a coordinated effort.
Queensland fruit fly develop from eggs to adults within five weeks in hot weather, whereas Med fly take
only four weeks. Female flies only need to mate once or twice in their lifetime, and can lay several hundred
eggs. The eggs are laid in small groups just beneath the skin of the fruit. The maggots hatch and, through
their feeding and the bacteria they carry, cause the fruit to rot and drop. When the maggots are fully grown
they leave the fruit and burrow into the soil, where they pupate. Both male and female flies feed on sugars
and can live for many weeks, the flies commonly over-winter as adults, becoming active when the weather warms
up around August. The population gradually builds to a peak in late summer.
Physical and Cultural Controls
- Unfortunately we can expect fruit fly to become more of a problem as the climate changes. A milder
winter will mean the problems start earlier with more generations occurring through the season. Monitoring
male populations and spraying early will prevent their numbers escalating later in the season. Pheromone
traps such as Eco-lure fruit fly traps
can be hung in late winter to act as monitoring stations, these will attract and kill male Qld fruit flies
and alert you so you can take further action.
- Once fruit is stung it is too late for anything but planning for a better result next year! You can
check fruit for tiny dimples or weeping clear sap. Stung tomatoes will have tiny green spots on the skin
as they ripen. Remove and destroy any stung fruit, it is more effective to do this straight away than
picking up rotten fruit from the ground as the maggots may have already left the fruit to pupate.
- Destroy all infected fruit by immersing it in water for several days or by placing it in a sealed,
black plastic bag in the sun, then try feeding it to poultry.
- Ideally it would be best to avoid planting fruit fly prone trees (see list below).
If you really want to grow stone fruit, then dwarf trees or espalier trees will make management easier.
A good rule of thumb when pruning stone fruit is that if you can?t reach it, cut it off.
- The most effective organic solution for the home gardener is exclusion. This simply involves covering
either the individual piece of fruit, fruit clusters, or the whole tree. Commercial
fruit fly exclusion bags are
available in polypropylene, waxed paper or cloth. In SE Asia, newspaper is glued to make a bag to cover
fruit. Bags should be placed over the fruit as soon as it is formed. Thin the fruit at the same time.
Excluding fruit fly from the entire tree is also possible by using a cover such as
fruit fly netting or
a lightweight fabric such as mosquito netting or shade cloth. It is best if covers are supported by a
frame. Only leave the covers in place for the period that fruit is ripening to avoid damage to the tree.
A big advantage to exclusion is it usually helps deal with bird and possum problems as well.
Least Toxic Chemical Controls
- Fruit fly has several predators - Braconid wasps are egg parasites; ants and ground beetles feed on
the maggots; and spiders, dragonflies, robber flies and birds such as Swallows, Restless Flycatchers and
Willy Wagtails eat the adult flies.
- Poultry is an enormous help in fruit fly control. If you design your orchard to incorporate chooks,
they will reward you by turning rotten fruit into eggs and happily spend hours scratching beneath trees
looking for fruit fly pupae. Adult fruit flies are trapped on the ground for up to 24 hours after emerging
from the pupae, as it takes this long for their wings to harden. During this time the adult flies are also
vulnerable to a roving chook. Where it isn't possible to allow chooks to free range, small demountable
fences can be used under trees vulnerable to attack by fruit fly.
Fruit fly is such a serious pest, capable of destroying 100% of the crop, so one product alone may not give
sufficient control, especially if the pest population was high the previous season. Other factors that
influence fruit fly population are if the orchard is within 5 km of rainforest, or it is a highly susceptible
crop such as tomato, rows of vegetables, stone fruit or large mangoes. In this case a combination of strategies
and controls may be needed. At the beginning of the fruit fly season a cover spray with a product containing
pyrethrum or spinosad should help to reduce fruit fly to more manageable numbers before putting up baits or
traps to catch female flies. The advantage of this combination, is that whereas repeated spraying with pyrethrum
would damage beneficial insect populations, only using it initially will reduce its impact.
The Leading Edge
- Protein baits have been found to be most effective at capturing newly emerged adult females so having
the traps up early is important.
- Eco-Naturalure is a fruit
fly bait, not a cover spray, so you don't spray the whole fruit tree with it. Instead it creates
'feeding stations' for fruit fly throughout your garden or orchard. It is a protein and sugar based bait
and highly attractive to both male and female fruit flies. The active ingredient, spinosad, is derived from
a naturally occurring soil bacteria. It is suitable for diverse gardens with a wide range of susceptible
fruits or large orchards or market gardeners.
- Cera traps are used to trap
Queensland (Qld) and Mediterranean (Med) male and female fruit fly in tree crops. It is not recommended
for tomatoes. It comes as a ready-to-use jar filled with a protein-based liquid that is hung in a tree.
Cera Traps contain no insecticide but most flies can't escape from the jar and drown in the liquid.
Its effectiveness depends on having multiple traps around and throughout your crops.
- The web abounds with recipes for homemade traps but sadly research has found that less than 1-2 per cent
of the insects caught in these traps are actually fruit fly. Even if fruit fly are caught, as there are
over 250 native fruit fly species in Australia, only a few flies in the trap may be the ones responsible
for stinging the fruit.
- Researchers in the USA have found that coffee bean juice from ground, ripe coffee berries have been a
great success as a bait for female Med flies.
Researchers continue to work on better solutions to this difficult pest problem. One approach by researcher
Colin Bain has been to develop a better trap, the BioTrap Globe trap. It is currently being trialled at a
community level in Swan Hill, Victoria. In August 2015 10,000 traps were distributed to the community for
use in their home gardens and these are proving very effective. The BioTrap Globe trap uses both a Fruit Fly
Attractant Gel and insecticide cubes. The gel contains a protein bait that attracts male and female fruit flies,
which are killed by the insecticide inside the trap. These are only available to commercial orchards, so not
currently available for backyard gardeners.
A team from the Queensland University of Technology has been working on a lure-and-kill device based on
combining fruit odour chemicals and visual attractants for female fruit flies. By using a lure that mimics
the smell of ripe fruit, it is believed that the female flies will find this lure more attractive than the
green, unripe fruit on the trees. This is still a few years away from being commercially available.
Fruit Fly Resistant Fruit
Cloth Fruit Bags
Exclusion Bag Sampler
Floating Row Cover
Grow Tunnel Kit
Paper Exclusion Bags
Queensland Fruit Fly Traps
Stone Fruit Bags
Wild May Fruit Fly Attractant and Traps
Avocado, avoid thin-skinned Fuerte and Rincon
Blueberry, sometimes affected
Citrus, avoid thin-skinned varieties such as Meyer lemon
Custard Apple, winter ripening varieties are best
Grapes, sometimes affected
Ice Cream Bean
Longan and Lychee
Mulberry, sometimes affected
Nashi Pears, sometimes affected
Persimmon, early varieties like Fuyu are susceptible