A reader wrote to us recently about the “tiny black worms” that are eating the strawberries in her garden. The reader wants to know what the small black worms on her strawberries are, and also wants to get rid of them. We’ll address each question in turn, first offering some suggestions about what the strawberry worms might be, and then listing a couple of different ways our reader might be able get rid of the worms.
Unfortunately, the reader’s email wasn’t very descriptive, and we also weren’t sent a picture of the worms that are eating the strawberries. All we know is that they are “tiny,” which isn’t particularly helpful because a lot of pests might be described this way, and also that they are black and eat strawberries. So, our suggestions will be unavoidably speculative.
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The most specific possibility we can put forward is that our reader is finding Harpalus rufipes, a type of ground beetle that is also called a “strawberry seed beetle.” If this is correct, she would be finding the larval form of this beetle (not the adult form) because, like so many other larvae, they look like small worms. These larvae are also black and only about a centimeter long, and so could certainly be described as “tiny.” The larvae remove seeds from strawberries and then eat their way into them. So, these creatures match up pretty well with what our reader is finding, and we think there is a reasonably good chance she is dealing with strawberry seed beetle larvae. However, lots of other pests eat strawberries, which tempers our confidence in any one suggestion. For instance, there are certain types of small millipedes that feed on strawberries (among other things), and these could be taken for a small black worm. Wireworms also eat strawberries and are a very common garden pests, so it’s best not to rule them out either. Wireworms are generally a tan or brownish color, but under the right lighting they might look black.
Of course, the fact that we can’t definitively identify what our reader is finding presents certain difficulties for suggesting remedies for the problem. However, we can offer some general advice. First, our reader might consider spraying vinegar (either white or apple cider) on her strawberry plants, as this often deters pests from attacking plants. Indeed, a person who appears to have the exact same “worms on strawberries” problem as our reader used this method, and it evidently helped a lot. Another common way to protect your garden against pests is to build small traps using something like jars or small wire cages that are dug into the ground. If you use jars, a lot of creatures (like beetles) will simply fall into them, and if you use a wire cage, you can add some easy-to-access food (like a chunk of an old potato) that will draw creatures away from your plants. In tension with the wire cage approach is another strategy, which is to keep your garden clean of any rotting vegetation, as this is often what attracts creature like millipedes in the first place. (Only after the decaying organic matter is gone do they turn to the live plants, at least in many cases.) Humans have been battling pests in their gardens since the advent of agriculture, though, so it’s not exactly surprising that no panacea exists for this particular gardening woe.
We aren’t exactly sure what our reader found, but we’ve at least offered some possibilities, and we’ve also provided some basic advice for getting rid of creatures in your garden. We hope our reader is able to ID her pest and get rid of it in short order, and wish her the best of luck in doing so.
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