Cucumber Worms

Cucumber worms have infected a reader’s fruit, we have recently learned. The reader knew that his fruit, the variety of which is unspecified, was infected by a cucumber worm, so he promptly threw it away (good call, as they leave pits in the rinds of fruits and vegetables, and worms leave behind their waste, known as “frass”). However, since the cucumber worm was discovered and the fruit it infected has been discarded, can the reader still keep the rest of the plant, or is the entire plant beyond hope because one of its fruits was infected?

This is an excellent question about an important topic (agricultural pests destroy enormous amounts of food every year), but first we need to address some basics, like, what exactly is a cucumber worm? Cucumber worms are actually the larva of the cucumber beetle, so cucumber worms are not species themselves, but are instead part of a beetle’s life cycle. Cucumber worms, which are white, tunnel their way into a variety of fruits and vegetables (cucumbers included), leaving their frass at the point of entry. Additional fruits and vegetables affected by cucumber worms include pumpkins, squash, watermelon, and cantaloupe. The adult form of cucumber worms – that is, cucumber beetles – also feed on plants, including corn, peas, and some kinds of beans.

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How the life cycle of cucumber beetles unfolds is relevant to our reader’s question, so let’s move on to this topic. First, cucumber beetles, which, by the way, are also known as “striped cucumber beetles,” fly from their hibernating location to an area of crops early in the growing season. Since they come early in the season, the beetles attack plants that are not fully grown, eating away at their stems in a way that eventually kills the entire plant. So if our reader had more than one plant, and if some of those plants died young, cucumber beetles are probably to blame. However, the reader said that the cucumber worm he is dealing with infected the fruit of the plant, so clearly this plant wasn’t killed off by a cucumber beetle early in its life (because if it had been it never would have yielded fruit, a development that comes relatively late in most plants’ life cycles). Thus, the reader has a fully grown plant that is infected, and the question is whether this plant can be salvaged.

Unfortunately, the answer is probably “no.” First, it would be strange if the reader had picked out the only cucumber worm afflicting his plant. Cucumber worms could be in other fruits on the plant that the reader hasn’t even noticed. They aren’t exactly drilling huge holes in the fruits they are tunneling into, although in truth their mark is noticeable, so perhaps other fruits haven’t been infected. Still, where there are cucumber worms, there are likely cucumber beetles, and the beetles not only eat the fruit, but also other parts of the plant, like its leaves, vines, or whatever the case may be. Again, this is just to say that in identifying one infected fruit, one didn’t necessarily find all the parts of the plant that are infected. The plant could very well be infected in other parts, and if so its immune system will be compromised, which leads to the third and most important consideration: cucumber worms and beetles carry viruses – notably squash mosaic virus and cucumber mosaic virus – and these viruses can easily bring down an already weakened plant. What’s more, once a plant is infected, there is no way to control it.

Unfortunately, we have to say that our reader’s plant probably can’t be rescued. The plant might be infected with more cucumber worms and beetles, or it might have already taken on an uncontrollable virus, but in any event it is likely not worth hanging on to.

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