Why Are There Bugs In Strawberries?

A viral video showed wormy bugs coming out of strawberries. Experts explain what kind they were and what happens if you accidentally consume them.

A video of bugs coming out of strawberries that were plunged in saltwater became a viral sensation on TikTok. Gross, right?

Unlike so many other clips on the social media platform, this one isn't a prank—it's more of a warning. According to TikTokers, you should submerge your strawberries in saltwater to get rid of the bugs. A BuzzFeed writer also gave it a go, leaving fresh strawberries in salted water for about 30 minutes...after which wormlike bugs emerged.

Strawberry Bugs
TikTok via @selesteradcliffe
Strawberry Bugs
TikTok via @selesteradcliffe

The video raised a lot of questions—among them what are these wormy bugs, why are they crawling out of strawberries, and is fresh fruit safe to consume?

Strawberry and small fruit crop entomologist Sriyanka Lahiri, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Florida, told Health that the tiny whitish worms are actually the maggots of a fly, commonly known as spotted wing drosophila (SWD). "It's an invasive species from East Asia that infests berry crops and has been in the USA since 2008," explained Lahiri.

Why Are These Bugs in Berries?

What sets the SWD fly apart from the common fruit fly is its ability to lay eggs inside undamaged ripe berry fruits, due to its serrated egg-laying device (called an ovipositor).

"The female SWD lays eggs inside the ripe fruit, and the resulting maggots hatch and continue feeding inside the fruit," said Lahiri. "The maggots go largely undetected during harvest. Since common fruit flies can only lay their eggs in softening, damaged, or rotting fruit, the maggots hitchhiking inside fresh-looking fruit definitely belong to the SWD species."

So why strawberries? The SWD is attracted to yeast and sugar water solution, which is used as a monitoring device in berry production, said Lahiri.

In fact, most berry crops are susceptible to SWD. In addition to strawberries, it's a common pest for blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and cherries, according to pest management bulletin published in 2018 by a team of researchers from multiple universities and the United State's Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Research Service.

But this doesn't mean all berries—strawberries included—are hosts for SWD.

Other Types of Bugs in Berries

In addition to the SWD fly and its maggots, there are several other pests that can be found in strawberries and other berries. According to Lahiri, pests that can cause damage to berry plants and fruits can include:

  • Thrips, which are small slender-winged insects
  • Mites, a microscopic arachnid (the same classification as ticks and spiders).
  • Aphids, which are soft-bodied insects that commonly feed on plants, including berry crops
  • Armyworms, a catepillar pest that are the larvae of a moth.

"If all of these pests are intensively managed, no type of infestation should be a major issue," Lahiri said.

How Do You Prevent Bug Infestations in Berries?

Because nothing can be done after the SWD eggs have been laid inside the ripe, undamaged fruit, pest management focuses on monitoring and preventative control tactics to get rid of the adult flies.

"The goal is to not let the females lay eggs on the fruit," said Lahiri. "Timely picking of ripe fruits, removal of rotting fruits, and burial of damaged fruits are good cultural practices to control SWD because these flies are attracted to a fermenting fruity smell."

Management recommendations vary depending on the type of infestation, but often involve the clearing away of infested plants and the use of insecticides to protect the fruit, as necessary.

The 2018 bulletin on SWD management included monitoring fields with traps and checking the traps weekly starting from the development of fruit until the end of harvest. If SWD is detected, the recommended management strategies included:

  • Use of exclusion netting to physically block pests from fruit
  • Cultural control methods, such as pruning
  • Decreasing the harvest intervals
  • Removing leftover fruit to keep the plant clean
  • Use of insecticides (National Organic Program compliant for organic fruits) as needed

Are There Any Health Risks If You Eat the Bugs in Strawberries?

Lahiri strongly recommended washing strawberries—and all other fresh fruits and vegetables—before eating them. However, since the maggots live deep inside the fruit, washing won't get rid of them entirely.

"Staying submerged in water might force a few of them out," said Lahiri. Incidentally, Lahiri isn't aware of any benefits of adding salt to the water, as it was in the TikTok video, although Lahiri hasn't conducted any research to that end. "Also, I am not sure the fresh strawberry taste will remain the same after being submerged in saltwater for too long," Lahiri added.

There's no proof that consuming a few maggots with your fruit has any negative health effects—and people have probably been doing it for centuries. So try to forget everything you've just read and carry on eating them.

"Although the sight of translucent worms crawling out of a fresh strawberry fruit might not be appealing, there are no known ill effects of eating them," said Lahiri. "In fact, if you accidentally consumed some maggots, all you did was get some extra animal protein in your salad or fruit shake."

How Common Is It to Have Bugs in Your Berries?

The reality is that in most cases, fresh market produce and stored grains have some amount of insect infestation that is impossible to get rid of. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even has contamination guidelines for each type of food—including how many bugs or how much mold is allowed to be inside the foods (although there doesn't seem to be anything on the FDA website concerning bugs inside strawberries).

An excessive amount of pesticides would be needed to follow a zero maggot/grub tolerance policy in food, "which is neither environmentally friendly nor beneficial for human health," explained Lahiri. "Having pesticide residue on our food versus having to ingest some extra animal protein can be considered as a fair trade-off."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles