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What is Eating my Strawberries?

The irresistible sweetness of strawberries bewitches our taste buds with every juicy bite, yet it also attracts pests and insects that leave persistent patches after they feast.

Generally, regular garden pests, insects, birds, and herbivores such as slugs, beetles, robins, crows,  deer, rabbits, etc., can invade strawberry gardens and damage strawberries.

Therefore, start by understanding different pests and insects to find a reliable treatment and prevention to protect your strawberries.

Is Pest Common in Strawberries?

Like any fruit-bearing plant, strawberries are susceptible to pests and insects around the year.

There are over 200 species of arthropod pests reported on strawberries in the U.S., but only about 15 of these species are considered problematic for strawberry producers.

The ripe fruit’s characteristic aroma, rich red color, juicy texture, and sweetness attract crawling bugs, small insects, and birds.

In spring, Bud Weevils and Tarnished Bugs emerge and infest new fruit buds to lay eggs, starting the pest infestation.

Spittlebug larvae may infest strawberries to seek shelter and grow inside the fruits before coming out in the spring.

Pests and insects invade ripening strawberries in May and June, causing damage like holes, bite marks, and decay.

Insect and pest inside strawberry
Strawberries’ attractive color and aroma are the main attraction to pests and insects.

Gardeners may mistake strawberry disease symptoms for pest problems, such as browning/yellowing foliage, stunted growth, leaf spots, or premature fruit dropping.

However, you should match these problems with the signs of overwatering problems before concluding on the pest problems.

What is Eating my Strawberries?

Despite providing an appropriate growing condition, signs of fruit damage indicate only one thing: pests.

Therefore, we have compiled a list of pests and insects prevalent in strawberries, their damages, and treatments and preventions.

1. Tarnished Plant Bugs

Tarnished plant bug is a deadly pest that injects a toxic substance that breaks down the plant tissues, causing significant damage.

The Tarnished bug’s toxin kills plant cells near the feeding site, causing distorted growth surrounding their sting marks.

Bugs cause catfacing injury, a distortion of fruit shape that resembles a cat’s puckered cheeks, through their piercing-sucking mouthparts, resulting in significant damage.

The adult bugs are 1/4 inch in size with wings. They display a brassy or tarnished body color with yellow or bronze marks. Each forewing has a black tip with a yellow triangle.

The adult females emerge in spring to lay eggs that hatch into 1 mm-sized nymph in about 5-7 days.

The nymphs will feed on blossoms and fresh strawberry seedlings, causing misshapen fruit and fruit discoloring.

Treatments and Preventive Measures

  • Dispose of the damaged fruits as they transmit decay to other fruits in the bush.
  • Apply appropriate pesticides (Containing Pyrethrum, Captan, and Malathion)and insecticides to kill bugs and nymphs without killing beneficial insects.
  • Attract beneficial insects like big-eyed bugs, damsel bugs, etc., by planting pollen-producing flowers.
  • Use white sticky traps to kill adult bugs and spray garlic around the plant before and during spring to avoid eggs.
  • Mow the grass and weeds around the garden to eliminate hiding spots and breeding grounds.
  • After planting, use a floating row cover to protect the new foliage from pests.

2. Slugs

Slugs are slimy bugs that infest strawberries by penetrating the fruiting, rendering them unproductive.

Next, they infest ripened fruits and green foliage, then produce visible holes.

Strawberries damaged by Slug pest
Slug leaves nasty holes and makes your fruit Unmarketable.
Slugs become active during the rainy season and may come out at night. In a few cases, significantly wet soil may also attract slimes.

An early way to notice slugs is by their slime trail left around the leaves and soil.

Once you see slugs around your plant, check for tiny, round, jelly-like eggs, generally laid under debris.

Treatment and Preventive Measures

  • For starters, you can handpick the slugs and drop them in a pan of beer or cover them with salt.
  • Apply commercial slug baits containing iron phosphate or metaldehyde, which attracts slugs and kills them.
  • Remove dead leaves and debris from the area to eliminate their hiding spots.
  • Alternatively, you can use a copper barrier to wrap it around the growing bench to repel the slugs.
  • Use appropriate watering habits, as wet soil may encourage slugs.
  • If you wish to use natural control, consider introducing hedgehogs, beneficial beetles, frogs, and toads into your garden.
  • Sprinkle diatomaceous earth, a powdery, granular material, around garden beds to repel the slugs.

3. Strawberry Clippers

Strawberry clippers, also known as strawberry bud weevils, are brown beetles.

They are hardly 1/4 inches long, and you can identify them by their weevil “snout” and reddish-brown body.

The overwintered beetles become active in spring and start feeding on young buds, causing blossom drop-off.

An adult beetle will chew through the pedicel to lay eggs. Once the eggs are hatched after a week, the larva will feed for 3-4 weeks.

Treatments and Preventive Measures

  • Start by removing and disposing of infested fruits and apply insecticidal soap appropriate for a strawberry clipper to eliminate the beetles.
  • Pesticide can effectively reduce the population of beetles, but beware about applying it during spring and daytime when the bees are foraging.
  • Apply the first spray in early May and then ten days later.
  • Cropping fields for less than three years, plowing under the bed after harvest, and removing old mulch will help to reduce the breeding site.

4. Spittlebugs

Spittlebugs feed on strawberry plants’ xylem fluids and spread Xylella, a pathogen that causes stunted growth, wilting, and shriveled fruit.

However, not all spittlebugs spread Xylella, but they are still annoying for gardeners.

These insects are most active in spring and lay eggs from July through October, where the larva hatches in a week or two and starts feeding on the tender foliage.

You could recognize spittlebug infestation by the white foam-like substance on leaves, petioles, and stems.

The spittlebug larva grows into froghoppers that can jump many times their height. Check every two weeks for spittlebug foam and nymphs at the base of the plants. 

You can identify them with their body color, which changes from orange to yellow and brown as they grow.

Treatments and Preventive Measures

  • For a small infestation, consider blasting them off with a water hose.
  • Neem oil, citrus-based pesticides, or homemade spray of garlic or hot pepper mixed with water are practical in reducing their number.
  • Try exposing natural enemies like birds or frogs to get rid of them.
  • Remove mulch and old dead leaves around the planting area at the end of the growing season to prevent the bugs.
  • In summer, cover the bushes with floating row covers to prevent adult insects from laying eggs.
  • Trim your lawn in the fall and winter for broadleaf weeds that host overwintering spittlebugs.

Spray the plant with a broad-spectrum insecticide containing acetamiprid, carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, fenpropathrin, or malathion.

5. Strawberry Sap Beetles

Sap beetles are attracted to Strawberry fruit sap from injured fruits.

They primarily feed on ripening fruit but prefer soft, overripe, or rotting fruits, causing significant damage.

Sap battles leave deep cavities in the fruit, similar to the damage caused by slugs, and introduce fungi or organisms that can further spoil the fruit.

The worst thing about sap beetle is that they help spread rot-causing disease organisms from one plant to another.

You can identify sap beetle infestation through damages such as small holes at the bottom of the fruit or a large section eaten from the side.

Treatments and Preventive Measures

  • Identify and discard damaged strawberries, as these become the host for the pest.
  • Use sap beetle traps or plastic funnel traps with vinegar to capture the pests before they invade the crops.
  • You can also use a container filled with stale beer and water with yeast to attract and capture the pests.
  • As a biological control, use beneficial nematodes that seek out and kill over 200 pests in the soil.
  • Harvest the fruit before they become overripe and dispose of the fallen fruit from the ground to prevent pests.
  • Clear all the weeds or tall grasses during the fall before planting your strawberries.
Sap beetle insecticide can effectively control severe infestations but may also damage ripe fruits. Therefore, try other methods before resorting to insecticide.

6. Two-spotted Spider Mite

Two-spotted Spider Mite is a yellowish bug about 1/50 inch long with a brown or orange-red body, usually found on leaf undersides.

This deadly strawberry pest weakens the plant before overwintering, which results in low-quality yield that year.

The feeding is particularly damaging during the first 2 to 5 months following transplanting in late summer or fall, causing a substantial yield reduction.

A female spider mite can lay up to 200 eggs that will start hatching in not more than seven days. The plant will start wilting once the larvae begin feeding.

However, a severe infestation may only begin when their number starts proliferating.

Plants facing 75 mites per leaflet may become severely weakened and appear stunted, dry, and red.

The most effective way to identify spider mite infestation is to check the underleaves for silk webbings that protect their eggs from predators. 

Otherwise, look for slight yellowish-white flecking on the upper leaf surface.

Treatments and Preventive Measures

  • Spray the infected plant with a miticide (pesticide specific to spider mites) every seven days until the infestation is removed.
  • Spraying the plant with Neem oil spray will also work effectively without killing other beneficial bugs.
  • To control spider mites long-term, release predatory mites and plant companion plants like chives, dill, garlic, etc.
  • To prevent spider mite infestation, place insect traps at the plant base, monitor regularly, and maintain plant hygiene by killing individual bugs.
  • Pre-plant cooling or vernalization production methods also help to prevent spider mite infestation.

7. Spotted Wing Drosophila (Small Fruit Fly)

Spotted wing drosophila, or the tiny fruit fly, is a common pest in strawberries and other juicy fruits.

They primarily feed on overripe fruits, hatching their eggs inside that soon turn into larvae.

They can lay about 500 eggs at a time, which will hatch within a week. Therefore, harvest your yields before they become overripe. 

Treatments and Preventive Measures

  • Instead of using pesticides for fruit flies, mix 1/2 tsp soap with 1 cup of water, spray over flies, and wipe with a cloth.
  • Spraying 90% isopropyl alcohol diluted with water will also effectively kill these pests.
  • Harvest the fruit immediately upon they ripen to prevent attracting small fruit flies, and try using sticky traps to catch the flies as bait.
  • Eliminate food sources such as damaged or disposable fruits from the garden to prevent attracting fruit flies.
  • Alternatively, place bowls filled with 1/2 cup of cider vinegar and two teaspoons of dish soap around the plant to attract the fruit flies.

8. Strawberry Rootworm

The strawberry rootworm (Paria fragariae) is a beetle typically found in perennial strawberry production.

Adult beetles emerge mid-spring after overwintering and remain active in May and July, especially at night.

They feed on leaves, leaving tiny holes, while larvae or grubs feed on roots. 

You can identify this pest by its dark and oval-shaped body, approximately 3 mm long, while larvae are white-colored.

Always check for small holes in the ripening berries where they lay eggs in summer.

Treatments and Preventive Measures

  • Use a microbial insecticide containing fungus to eat strawberry rootworms and other pests.
  • Alternatively, use appropriate insecticides to treat strawberry rootworms according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • Prune weeds and grass around the garden to increase sunlight and reduce humidity.
  • Pre-plant cooling or vernalization production method may help prevent rootworm infestation by keeping the garden cool (32°–33° F).
  • Biological control, such as constantly exposing predators, helps eliminate unwanted pests.
Pest and insects identification
Every pest Leaves its own marks after damaging your strawberries.

9. Small Birds

From picking the whole fruit to nibbling on them, birds can damage a large amount of fruit in a short time.

Small birds like Robin, Crows, Blue Jays, Finches, and Orioles are the major predatory birds that primarily feast on ripe strawberries.

 But several physical deterrents repel the birds without harming them.

How to Deter Small Birds

  • Cover the bushes with 1-inch hole chicken wire or use mesh or butterfly netting over the bushes to deter the birds.
  • As a temporary solution, install fake snakes, scarecrows, or predator toys in the garden to scare away the birds.

10. Furry Animals

Burrowing animals like squirrels, raccoons, and rabbits are excellent climbers who climb the trays to reach the plants.

Once close to the plant, they will eat away the young and ripe fruits, leaving only debris.

You should start with physical control methods to aver them before they become a severe threat.

How to Deter Furry Animals

  • Install a chicken wire fence at least 30 inches high, buried 6 inches deep, to repel small animals like raccoons and rabbits without harming them.
  • Alternatively, you can apply the small animal repellant spray to keep them away to some extent.

Consider placing blood meal, feather meal, human hair, and commercial deer repellants near the plant to deter big animals like deer.

From Editorial Team

In Conclusion!

Instead of using chemical treatments, switch to biological control to avoid the adverse effects of insecticides and pesticides.

Pests and insects can attract pathogens that spread and destroy strawberry gardens, so switch towards organic insecticides such as neem oil.

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