Have you recently picked cherries and found there are little white worms inside of the fruit? Then you’ve probably come across a cherry fruit fly larvae.
While the cherry fruit fly is harmless, finding small worms inside of your fruit is understandably unpleasant and even a disgusting thought to some.
A cherry fruit fly infestation may also ruin a crop of homegrown cherries, so it helps to know how to prevent these small pests ruining your cherry yields this season.
The guide below has all the information you need to know about the cherry fruit fly – including how to prevent it from contaminating your cherries.
White Worms in Cherries: What Are They?
White worms found inside of cherries are the larva of the western cherry fruit fly or Rhagoletis indifferens Curran.
The creamy-white worms are small, measuring about ¼ of an inch, hatching from eggs that are laid inside of the cherry fruit, just beneath the skin.
So how do these eggs get inside of the cherry?
The female cherry fruit fly seeks out ripe fruit between May and June, burrowing inside of the cherry to lay an egg.
Once the egg hatches, the white worm larva starts eating the cherry, fattening itself before burrowing into the ground and pupating over the winter.
Come spring, the pupate hatches, and an adult cherry fruit fly emerges
Western Cherry Fruit Fly
Where are They From – History
The western cherry fruit fly is native to the western United States, with sightings dating back to the early 20th century.
Although, it now seems that they are also invading Europe and share genes with the European cherry fly. (1)
These small flies are difficult to spot with the naked eye, measuring around 1/5 of an inch when fully grown.
How they Get into Cherries
Cherry fruit flies spread via cherries, with a female fly burrowing just a small hole beneath the surface of the fruit and laying eggs.
Unpicked cherries naturally fall to the ground, allowing the larva to burrow into the soil, where they turn into a pupa, going dormant over winter.
By spring, western cherry fruit flies are fully grown and emerge from the grown, flying back up towards the cherry tree to start mating.
The lifespan of a cherry fruit fly is approximately 2-4 weeks, where they tend to mate around the same tree that they were born form.
Once mated, the female fruit fly burrows into the cherry and lays an egg, repeating the cycle for another season.
Female cherry fruit flies prefer ripening cherries to lay their eggs, so usually target fruit growing between May and June.
It doesn’t take long for cherry fruit flies to lay eggs – they can start laying 7-10 days after emerging.
Of course, many cherries are picked by cultivators, causing these small white worms to appear alive inside of the fruit.
Do All Cherries Have Worms?
No, not all cherries have worms inside.
While cherry fruit flies are a pest throughout western United States, many cherry trees come through the season unscatched.
However, it is important to prevent the spread of the western cherry fruit fly.
Without preventative measures, fruit flies are likely to lay eggs in a high volume of cherry fruits, ruining a potentially bountiful harvest for cultivators.
Is It Okay to Eat Cherries with Worms?
Yes, you can eat cherries with worms inside.
Of course, many people find the idea of eating cherries with creamy white worms inside disgusting.
In fact, these worms are a source of protein, and because they eat the cherries, they taste the same as the fruit.
Even so, it’s understandable that most people will still avoid eating cherries with worms inside, but you have nothing to worry about.
Can You Get Sick from Worms in Cherries?
If you do eat a cherry with worms inside, you have nothing to worry about, as the larva are completely harmless to humans.
Our immune systems are more than capable of handling these small worms, which aren’t parasitic so will cause no issues inside our digestive systems.
Beyond feeling grossed out by the experience, you’ll have no problems if you eat a cherry with worms inside.
How to Get Rid of Worms in Cherries – Step by Step
Step One – Don’t Throw Away the Cherries.
There is a common misconception that cherries are ruined if they have worms inside.
Yes, removing the worms is difficult but that doesn’t mean you just give up and throw away a good harvest of cherries.
Step Two – Pick Your Cherries
Grab all the cherries you’ve grown.
Because fruit fly holes in the fruit are so small, identifying which ones have worms can be challenging.
So, let’s just play it safe and assume they’re all at risk.
Step Three – Submerge in Water with Citric Acid
Fill a large container with water and add a few teaspoons of citric acid – something like lemon juice works fine.
Step Four – Leave Cherries for a Few Hours
After submerging the cherries in the water and citric acid for a few hours, you should notice lots of white worms at the bottom of the container.
The solution should help get rid of most of the worms inside of your fruit.
How to Prevent Western Cherry Fruit Flies
Cherry fruit fly damage can sometimes devastate entire developing cherry fruit trees.
The best way to control western cherry fruit fly infestations is using preventive measures to stop the eggs being laid inside the fruit in the first place.
Some handy ways to prevent western cherry fruit flies include:
Available at most garden centers, these lure in adult cherry fruit flies, killing them before they get the chance to lay eggs.
Hang these around the cherry tree in a sunny position once temperatures approach 75F.
Apply several sprays (always follow label directions) of an insecticide to your cherry tree at the beginning of fruit fly season, usually around May.
Flies emerge continually over spring, so several applications to the cherry tree is needed to prevent their spreading.
Set Yellow Sticky Traps
Yellow sticky traps hung near your cherry crops will attract fruit flies.
Their bright yellow color and the often added pheromones make the trap one of your best bets when you attempt effective preventive control to avoid damaged fruit and cherry meat.
Check traps daily and you will occasionally find small flies.
Once these yellow traps get full, make sure you’re swapping them for new ones over an extended period to protect your young fruit and end up with plenty more usable fruit.
These traps should cost you a few dollars for a multi pack and are good value to stop flies before they drop their larvae into your cherries or fruits, sometimes devastating an entire tree!
Small white worms inside of cherries are the off-white larvae of the western cherry fruit fly.
Adult fruit flies lay eggs inside the cherry, which grow into small larvae that eat the fruit.
Once the cherries fall to the ground, the larva burrow into the earth, remerging in spring to repeat the cycle.
Monitor fruit flies and take preventative measures as discussed in our post.
Many people find these worms inside of picked cherries – they look gross but are safe and harmless to eat. If accidentally ingested (or purposely), you have nothing to worry about.
They can harm human beings and aren’t parasites of human intestines.
Removing worms from cherries takes time and effort, so preventative measures like fly traps and insecticides are the best way to prevent them from ruining cherries.
(1) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/eea.12041 – Invasion genetics of American cherry fruit fly in Europe and signals of hybridization with the European cherry fruit fly