With the effort you’re putting into growing strawberries, it’s natural that you’d want to be the first to eat them.
As unjustifiable as it is, almost everything that can move will try to steal your strawberries.
Most will be successful because they forage for food during the night when you’re fast asleep.
All too often, a strawberry gets picked off the vine only to uncover a single deep hole, several smaller holes or astonishingly, berries that are drained dry of juices, effectively turning them to mush.
To find what’s getting at your strawberries, read on to discover how to tell what’s eating your strawberries by inspecting the damage that’s caused.
What is eating my strawberries?
Cockroaches, slugs, nymphs from the eggs of the strawberry crown borer, the tarnished plant bug (lygus) are all prone to eating holes in strawberries. The strawberry sap beetle is a secondary pest that bores into strawberries already weakened by another insect.
Cockroaches eat deep into strawberries. Almost as though it’s scooped the fruit out.
An easy tell if ‘roaches are eating your strawberries is that the holes they leave are perfectly rounded and right at the tip.
A fast and effective remedy to prevent cockroaches from ruining your strawberries is to apply diatomaceous earth around your strawberries. It destroys their exoskeletons causing them to die.
To prevent them from hanging around your garden, keep mulch to a minimum, and limit the space they can live. Their preferred habitat is under rocks, piles of wood, and, like slugs, in your compost bin.
If you’ve ever wondered why cockroaches even exist, it’s because they are beneficial insects. They just don’t play their part well. If they did, they’d stick to eating down decomposing material.
They don’t though. Cockroaches eat anything like it’s going out of style. Even cannibalism is fair game for these horrible little creatures.
Strawberry patches are a paradise for slugs. They’ll bore holes deep into the fruit.
These feed during the night and hide under your mulch bed during the day.
Wherever you’re growing strawberries, expect to be on slug patrol regularly.
You can dust some diatomaceous earth around your plants as a deterrent as slugs are hesitant to cross it because of its sharpness.
Putting out slug bait pellets at the start of the season can reduce the population by killing off young slugs emerging from the slug eggs in soil in early spring.
Another effective method is placing beer traps in the ground, flush with the soil. The scent of the yeast in beer attracts slugs. Then they fall into the bowl and drown.
Strawberry sap beetle
The strawberry sap beetle is black or brown and only an eighth of an inch long.
These bore holes in strawberries, but that’s only after something else has made a start at eating your strawberries.
Two things of note with this pest are that
- it’s attracted to decaying fruits… mostly those that already have entry holes made by another pest, and
- its antennas have rounded tips making it difficult to puncture the fruit directly without the assistance of something else.
The rounded tips on the antennae are the clear differentiator between a sap beetle and all other beetles.
The attraction for the sap beetle is decaying fruits and overripe strawberries; therefore, the most effective control method is to get rid of strawberries before they begin to rot, or overripen.
Tarnished plant bug
The tarnished plant bug (lygus bug) does a number on strawberries as they cause fruits to grow abnormally. The term used to describe it is cat-facing.
The most damage is seen on the tip of berries where the pierce holes in the fruit to suck out the seeds. They’ll feed on every part of the strawberry plant though.
Each time they pierce the skin of the fruit, they release a toxin that causes the malformation.
It’s the nymphs that do the most damage.
Tarnished plant bugs are brown with yellow markings and only a quarter of an inch long. They’re most active in early spring when they’re on the hunt for fruits to lay their eggs in.
The nymphs are green and wingless and start feeding around mid-May, then continue to feed throughout the season.
These overwinter in garden debris and start the cycle again in early spring the following year.
The adult lygus bugs are resilient to insecticides so the best prevention method is to grow these under a cloche or similar enclosure. Nymphs can be treated with insecticides.
Strawberry crown borer
The strawberry crown borer is a wingless beetle that’s only 4mm in size and a dark brown color.
This doesn’t do the most damage to your strawberries. Their larvae does that.
The beetle uses its snout to bore tiny holes in the crown of the plant. Then they deposit eggs.
Typically, crown borers are dormant in soil becoming active in early March. They’ll then bore a hole in the crown and deposit an egg. Usually one, but it can be more. One is all it takes to create havoc though.
The larvae of the crown borer are white grubs about a fifth of an inch long. They burrow deep into the crown, feeding as it goes, creating miniscule holes about 6mm in diameter.
Pupation happens around late summer and that’s when most of the crown will be eaten out.
By August and onwards, the adult beetles emerge. Those feed on the leaves later in the season, then go below ground to overwinter in the soil or under debris, emerging the following March to repeat the cycle.
Your best defense when you identify a single deep hole through the crown of the plant is to use crop rotation because they will repeat the cycle.
Frequently Asked Questions related to what’s eating strawberries
Do cutworms and spittlebugs eat strawberries?
Both cutworms and spittlebugs can eat strawberries, but these tend to stay close to the soil level feeding mostly on the leaves and stems. Both will eat holes in the leaves, but rarely will they eat the fruit.
What animals eat strawberries?
Birds peck deep into strawberries. Deer will browse on the utmost parts of the plant, and rabbits, raccoons, and squirrels will gnaw on most parts of the strawberry plant, not just the fruit.
Taking care of houseplants and gardening are my greatest passions. I am transforming my apartment into an urban jungle and am growing veggies in my indoor and outdoor garden year-round.