Pepper Maggot
Zonosemata electa (Say), Tephritidae, DIPTERA


Adult - The adult pepper maggot is a yellow fly about 8 mm long. It has one pair of brown-banded, clear wings. A small black dot is located on each side of the last segment of the abdomen.

Egg - The white, crooknecked-shaped egg is roughly 2 mm long and about 0.3 mm wide.

Larva - White and translucent when newly hatched, the maggot has a pointed head and turns yellow as it develops. When fully grown, it is 10 to 12 mm long and about 3 mm in diameter at its widest point.

Pupa - The pupa is enclosed in a hard covering known as the puparium. This protective case is about 8 mm long and 4 mm wide.


Distribution - From New Jersey, this introduced pest has spread throughout the eastern half of the U.S. It now occurs from Massachusetts south to Florida and westward to Indiana, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Host Plants - Pepper maggots feed within the fruiting structures of weeds such as horsenettle and ground cherry. Economically important hosts include hot cherry pepper, eggplant, and tomato fruit. Bell and sweet peppers are not subject to infestation.

Damage - The first sign of pepper maggot infestation is the appearance of egg punctures in small peppers 1 to 4 cm in diameter. These punctures are elliptical holes 0.4 by 0.3 millimeters. As infested peppers enlarge, the egg punctures become shallow depressions in the fruit. Maggots feed within the fruit but usually have emerged by the time the peppers are sold in the market. If peppers are picked when green, infested fruit cannot be distinguished from good fruit. Eventually however, maggot-damaged peppers will turn red prematurely and begin to rot. Such peppers are worthless for marketing. As they rot, peppers attract many kinds of flies, and maggots may develop in the decaying fruit. These maggots should not be confused with the pepper maggots which initiated the damage. The pepper maggots are no longer present.

Life History - Pepper maggots overwinter as pupae 5 to 10 cm below the soil surface. Flies emerge from late June through August and mate. Soon afterwards, females insert eggs just beneath the skin of young peppers. Eggs hatch about 10 days later depending on the growth rate of host peppers. At this time the peppers are usually 2/3 to fully grown. Larvae feed within the peppers for about 18 days. When fully grown, each larva cuts an exit hole, emerges, and drops to the soil to pupate. Only one generation occurs each year.


The use of insecticides is the only reliable method of pepper maggot control. A dust or spray should be applied to the foliage when flies appear and repeated as necessary. For chemical control recommendations, consult the current North Carolina Agricultural Chemical Manual.

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