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What Is the Mediterranean Fruit Fly?

The Mediterranean fruit fly can cause serious damage to tomato plants.
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  • Written By: Bethney Foster
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 14 April 2014
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The Mediterranean fruit fly is a tropical fruit fly from Africa, though it is found as an invasive species in other parts of the world. It has established infestations in parts of Europe, South America, and the Caribbean, as well as in Hawaii since 1910. Owing to its ability to devastate crops, many governments have strict quarantines to ensure that it not establish new infestations, and they practice drastic eradication measures if the fruit fly’s presence is suspected.

The Mediterranean fruit fly damages more different types of plants than any other fruit fly. It is considered to be the most dangerous agricultural pest in the world. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that, if the pest were to become established in the U.S., the agricultural costs could exceed $7 billion US Dollars (USD). The Mediterranean fruit fly infests more than 260 types of plants, including fruits, vegetables, and nuts. The worst damage from the infestations is generally found in citrus crops, peppers, and tomatoes.

Ceratitis capitata, the scientific name of the Mediterranean fruit fly, is smaller than a housefly. Commonly referred to as Medfly, the adult is yellow with a bit of brown on its legs, patterned wings, and purple eyes. The life cycle of the Mediterranean fruit fly is between 21 and 100 days, with the amount of time necessary depending on temperature and weather conditions.

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The female fly lays one to 10 eggs to start the life cycle. The eggs are smooth, shiny, and white, and she deposits them under the skin of nearly ripe fruit. While reproductive, she may lay eggs 22 times per day and will lay an average of 300 eggs in her lifetime.

From these eggs, white larvae hatch and begin feeding on the fruit, where they remain for up to 26 days. They leave the fruit to pupate in nearby soil. The pupae from which the adult fly will emerge is red-brown in color. The time of pupation varies depending on temperature and weather conditions. Once it emerges, the adult will be fully mature and can start to reproduce within about three days.

In the U.S., the first infestation following that of Hawaii occurred in Florida in 1929. There have been several infestations in the country since then. Eradication and prevention programs have kept the Mediterranean fruit fly from becoming established on the mainland. Those who are traveling abroad or from Hawaii are not allowed to bring into the country products that might harbor the pest. These products include fresh fruits, meats, and birds.

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