Agriculture: Tomato Pest Management Guidelines


  • Liriomyza sativae and L. trifolii
  • Description of the Pest

    Leafminer adults are small, black and yellow flies. Liriomyza sativae is shiny black on the upper surface except for a prominent yellow triangle between the bases of the wings; the underside and the face between the eyes are yellow. Liriomyza trifolii differs in having the thorax covered with overlapping bristles that gives fresh specimens a silvery gray color; specimens that are carelessly handled or placed in alcohol lose the gray and appear black. Also, the portion of the head behind the eyes is mostly yellow in L. trifolii, with only a small black area touching the rear edge of the eye; in L. sativae, the area behind the eyes is predominantly black. With practice, field identification is possible. However, you may wish to contact your local farm advisor for verification. The yellowish maggots and the brown, seedlike pupae of the two species are too similar to distinguish in the field.

    The leafminers Liriomyza sativae and L. trifolii are common throughout California. Both species can reach damaging levels quite rapidly if certain disruptive insecticides are used repeatedly. Liriomyza trifolii, which appeared in the state in the late 1970s to early 1980s, is resistant to a wide spectrum of pesticides and has been the most common leafminer pest of tomatoes since 1990.

    The two leafminer species are similar in life history. Eggs are inserted in leaves and larvae feed between leaf surfaces, creating a meandering track or "mine." At high population levels, entire leaves may be covered with mines. Mature larvae leave the mines, dropping to the ground to pupate. The life cycle takes only 2 weeks in warm weather; there are seven to ten generations a year. Both species feed on a wide variety of crops and weeds; development continues all year and the population moves from one host to another as new host plants become available.


    Leafminer feeding results in serpentine mines (slender, white, winding trails); heavily mined leaflets have large whitish blotches. Leaves injured by leafminers drop prematurely; heavily infested plants may lose most of their leaves. If it occurs early in the fruiting period, defoliation can reduce yield and fruit size and expose fruit to sunburn. Pole tomatoes, which have a long fruiting period, are more vulnerable than other tomato crops. Leafminers are normally a pest of late summer tomatoes and can reach high numbers.


    The most important aspect of leafminer management is conserving their natural enemies, which are often killed by broad-spectrum insecticides applied for other tomato pests. Reduce the risk of leafminer outbreaks by applying insecticides for fruit pests only when monitoring shows treatment is needed and by choosing insecticides that are least likely to harm leafminer parasites.

    Biological Control

    Several species of parasitic wasps, particularly Chrysocharis parksi and Diglyphus begini, attack leafminer larvae; left undisturbed, parasites often keep leafminers numbers below economic injury levels.

    Cultural Control

    Check transplants for leafminers or mines before planting and destroy any plants that are infested; leafminers reach damaging levels earlier when infestations begin on transplants. Tomato varieties with curled leaves are less susceptible to leafminer damage and may provide suitable alternatives where leafminer damage is expected, as in fields adjacent to other infested crops. Where a series of tomato crops is planted in the same area, you can reduce early infestations in a new crop by removing old plantings immediately after the last harvest.

    Organically Acceptable Methods

    Biological and cultural controls as well as sprays of the Entrust formulation of spinosad are acceptable for use on an organically certified crop.

    Monitoring and Treatment Decisions

    A monitoring technique for leafminers in fresh market tomatoes is to place plastic trays about 12 by 15 inches in size beneath plants at several randomly chosen places in the field. Mature larvae that drop from foliage accumulate on the trays and pupate there, providing a measure of leafminer activity. A treatment threshold used experimentally for L. sativae and L. trifolii in southern coastal fresh market tomato fields is to treat when an average of 10 pupae per tray per day accumulates over a 3- or 4-day period. In all areas, do not treat unless pupae are present. Absence of pupae, even if new mines are present, indicates that parasitic wasps are suppressing leafminer numbers.

    The dominant species of Liriomyza leafminers in California is in flux. However, all species are resistant to organophosphates, carbamates, and pyrethroids. If these types of insecticides are used, Liriomyza leafminer numbers will increase. Rotate applications of abamectin (also controls russet mite) and chlorantraniliprole or spinetoram. Some species are also controlled to a certain degree by spinosad.

    Common name Amount per acre** REI‡ PHI‡
    (Example trade name) (hours) (days)
    Not all registered pesticides are listed. The following are ranked with the pesticides having the greatest IPM value listed first—the most effective and least harmful to natural enemies, honey bees, and the environment are at the top of the table. When choosing a pesticide, consider information relating to air and water quality, resistance management, and the pesticide's properties and application timing. Always read the label of the product being used.
      (Agri-mek SC) 1.75–3.5 fl oz 12 7
      COMMENTS: Apply in a minimum of 20 gal water/acre. This insecticide is the least toxic to beneficials of the insecticides listed. To delay the development of resistance, use in rotation with other insecticides.
      (Coragen) 3.5–5 fl oz 4 1
      COMMENTS: Use with an adjuvant to increase penetration. Can be applied as foliar spray or by drip chemigation. Read label for treatment intervals.
      (Radiant SC) 6–10 fl oz 4 1
      (Entrust)# 2–2.5 oz 4 1
      (Success) 6–10 fl oz 4 1
      COMMENTS: Does not significantly affect hymenopterous parasites of leafminers. Controls Liriomyza sativae and L. trifolli. Ground applications provide better control than aerial ones. For resistance management, do not apply more than two times in any 21-day period.
    ** See label for dilution rates.
    Restricted entry interval (REI) is the number of hours (unless otherwise noted) from treatment until the treated area can be safely entered without protective clothing. Preharvest interval (PHI) is the number of days from treatment until harvest can take place. In some cases the REI exceeds the PHI. The longer of these two intervals is the minimum time that must elapse before harvest may take place.
    * Permit required from county agricultural commissioner for purchase or use.
    # Acceptable for use on organically grown produce.
    1 Rotate chemicals with a different mode-of-action group number, and do not use products with the same mode-of-action group number more than twice per season to help prevent the development of resistance. For example, the organophosphates have a group number of 1B; chemicals with a 1B group number should be alternated with chemicals that have a group number other than 1B. Mode-of-action group numbers are assigned by IRAC (Insecticide Resistance Action Committee).
    Text Updated: 12/13
    Treatment Table Updated: 09/16