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Plantwise Technical Factsheet

tomato leafminer (Tuta absoluta)

Host plants / species affected
Amaranthus viridis (slender amaranth)
Beta vulgaris (beetroot)
Capsicum (peppers)
Capsicum annuum (bell pepper)
Chenopodium bonus-henricus
Chenopodium rubrum
Convolvulus arvensis (bindweed)
Datura stramonium (jimsonweed)
Nicotiana glauca (tree tobacco)
Physalis angulata (cutleaf groundcherry)
Sinapis arvensis (wild mustard)
Solanum dubium
Solanum lycopersicum (tomato)
Solanum melongena (aubergine)
Solanum muricatum (melon pear)
Solanum nigrum (black nightshade)
Solanum tuberosum (potato)
Solanum woronowii
Sonchus oleraceus (common sowthistle)
Sorghum halepense (Johnson grass)
Spinacia oleracea (spinach)
Xanthium strumarium (common cocklebur)
List of symptoms/signs
Fruit  -  abnormal shape
Fruit  -  frass visible
Fruit  -  internal feeding
Fruit  -  obvious exit hole
Fruit  -  premature drop
Fruit  -  reduced size
Growing point  -  dead heart
Growing point  -  distortion
Growing point  -  frass visible
Growing point  -  internal feeding; boring
Growing point  -  lesions
Inflorescence  -  external feeding
Inflorescence  -  fall or shedding
Inflorescence  -  frass visible
Inflorescence  -  internal feeding
Leaves  -  abnormal forms
Leaves  -  external feeding
Leaves  -  frass visible
Leaves  -  internal feeding
Leaves  -  leaves rolled or folded
Leaves  -  necrotic areas
Stems  -  dead heart
Stems  -  dieback
Stems  -  distortion
Stems  -  internal feeding
Stems  -  visible frass
Stems  -  wilt
Stems  -  witches broom
Whole plant  -  dead heart
Whole plant  -  distortion; rosetting
Whole plant  -  frass visible
Whole plant  -  internal feeding
Whole plant  -  plant dead; dieback

The eggs are elliptical, and their colour varies from oyster-white to bright yellow, darkening in the embryonic phase and becoming almost black near eclosion (Imenes et al., 1990).


The first-instar larvae are whitish soon after eclosion, becoming greenish or light pink in the second to fourth instars according to food (leaflet or ripe fruit, respectively). There are usually four instars (Imenes et al., 1990).


The pre-pupae are lighter than the feeding larvae (first to fourth instars) and develop a distinguishing pink colouration on the dorsal surface. They leave the mines and build silk cocoons on the leaflets or in the soil, according to habitat. When pupation occurs inside mines or fruit the pre-pupae do not build cocoons.


Pupae are obtecta with greenish coloration at first, turning chestnut brown and dark brown near adult emergence (Imenes et al., 1990).


Adult moths are about 10 mm long, with silverish-grey scales, filiform antenae, alternating light or dark segments and recurved labial palps which are well developed (Imenes et al., 1990).
Prevention and control

Cultural Control

Ploughing, manuring, irrigation, crop rotation, solarisation, and the elimination of symptomatic leaves and destruction of infested tomato plants have all been used to control this pest. The removal of alternative reservoir hosts such as nightshades is strongly recommended before and during the cropping cycle. In greenhouses, one of the management tactics used to reduce the initial level of populations is to keep infested greenhouses closed after harvest to prevent the migration of adults to open-field crops. Alternating host crops, mainly tomato and potato, with non-host cultures can ensure a long-term reduction in pest pressure.

Chemical Control

The most common method of controlling T. absoluta in South American countries is the application of insecticides, usually pyrethrin, carbaryl and deltamethrin. The impact of T. absoluta on tomato crops in Europe and North Africa led to the extensive use of insecticides by growers in these regions, especially in the first years after detection of the pest (Desneux et al., 2011; Abbes and Chermiti, 2012). For example, up to 15 insecticide applications specifically targeting T. absoluta were added in a growing season to tomato IPM schemes in Spain. This was also the case in Brazil, where the immediate consequence of the introduction of T. absoluta was a sudden increase in insecticide use in tomato fields, from 10-12 applications per cultivation cycle to more than 30 applications that required 4-6 weekly sprays (Guedes and Picanço, 2012; Tomé et al., 2012). A large number of insecticides are currently used against T. absoluta in invaded countries including spinosin, indoxacarb, abamectin, emamectin benzoate and cyromazin. In Tunisia, 29 new insecticides representing 18 active molecules were introduced between 2009 and 2011 for the management of T. absoluta (Abbes et al., 2012). Despite the long list of pesticides registered for the management of the pest, these insecticides are of low to moderate effectiveness due to the cryptic nature of the larvae and the high biotic potential of the insect. In addition, several cases of insecticide resistance have been reported including resistance to organophosphates, pyrethroids, abamectin, cartap, chlorantraniliprole, flubendiamide, permethrin and spinosad (Siqueira et al., 2000; Haddi et al., 2012; Roditakis et al., 2015).


The use of pheromone-based strategies is recognized as an important control technique for T. absoluta (Cocco et al., 2013; Megido et al., 2013). Enormous advances have been made in the field of semiochemicals to cope with T. absoluta, especially sex pheromones which are important male attractants (Desneux et al., 2010, and references therein). The reproduction biology of T. absoluta supports the potential use of male annihilation as an effective control method as reproduction in this pest has been considered as strictly amphimictic and males emerge earlier than females and the females mate several times (Garzia et al., 2012). Pheromone traps are considered as the first line of defence against this moth both in open fields and in greenhouses as they are used for monitoring and male annihilation purposes. Most of the IPM strategies developed or under development against T. absoluta utilize pheromones in combination with other control techniques, either for male annihilation using pheromone-baited traps, mating disruption based on atmospheric saturation of the synthetic pheromone to reduce mating chances, or lure and kill techniques using a combination of a low amount of the synthetic sex pheromone of T. absoluta and an insecticide to reduce the male population (Witzgall et al., 2010; Cocco et al., 2013).

Inherited sterility (sterile males)

Inherited sterility programmes which involve releasing irradiated sterile males was recently proposed as a possible method for control of this moth (Cagnotti et al., 2012). This technique is based on the assumption that amphimixis is the only method of reproduction for T. absoluta; however, parthenogenesis among wild and laboratory-reared strains of T. absoluta has recently been demonstrated. This phenomenon could have serious implications for the viability of IPM programmes using pheromone-based techniques.

Biological Control

Several biocontrol agents are used to control the tomato leafminer in open field and greenhouse tomato cultivation. The most common predators against T. absoluta are the mirid bugs Nesidiocoris tenuis and Macrolophus pygmaeus. These natural enemies are commercially available and widely used in North Africa and Europe.

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)-based insecticide formulations have been used to control T. absoluta in its native and invaded regions. Several studies have demonstrated the efficacy of Bt in controlling T. absoluta. The first-instar larvae are the most susceptible target and, on this basis, various commercially available formulations have been recommended for use without side effects on beneficial arthropods (Mollá et al., 2011).

Entomopathogenic nematodes have been tested for the management of T. absoluta. Laboratory and field trials revealed high larval mortality (78.6-100%) and low pupal mortality (10%) when Steinernema feltiae was evaluated against the pest (Garcia-del-Pino et al., 2013). However, the efficiency of entomopathogenic fungi on T. absoluta has not been widely investigated. Several fungal species including Metarhizium anisopliae and Beauveria bassiana are reported to attack the eggs, larvae and adults of the pest. Studies have revealed up to 54% mortality of T. absoluta adults by M. anisopliae (Pires et al., 2009, 2010).

Host-Plant Resistance

Host-plant resistance was explored by developing tomato accessions with high zingiberene and/or acylsugar contents resulting on low ovipostion rates and larval feeding of T. absoluta (de Azevedo et al., 2003; Maluf et al., 2010).



Following its introduction into Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, T. absoluta has already caused extensive economic damage. The impact of the pest includes severe yield loss reaching 100%, increasing tomato prices, bans on the trade of tomato including seedlings, an increase in synthetic insecticide applications, disruption of integrated management programmes of other tomato pests, and an increase in the cost of crop protection. In addition, the outbreak of this pest led to a significant augmentation of risks for growers, consumers and the environment associated with the blind use of chemicals (USDA-APHIS, 2012; Zappalà et al., 2012; Zlof and Suffert, 2012). Considering its high biotic potential, its ability to adapt to various climatic conditions and the speed with which it has colonized Europe and North Africa, the potential invasion of African and especially Asian tomato crops by T. absoluta will probably impact heavily on the livelihood of local tomato growers and tomato agribusinesses in these regions.  

Related treatment support
Plantwise Factsheets for Farmers
Villarroel Gálviz, B.; CABI, 2012, English language
Villarroel Gálviz, B.; CABI, 2012, English language
Villarroel Gálviz, B.; CABI, 2012, Spanish language
Villarroel Gálviz, B.; CABI, 2012, Spanish language
CABI; CABI, Portuguese language
Pest Management Decision Guides
Otipa, M.; Kiige, P.; Ringera, E.; Wendot, P.; Masinde, B.; Munyao, P.; Oyoo, J.; Nabakwe, W.; CABI, 2014, Swahili language
Otipa, M.; Kiige, P.; Ringera, E.; Wendot, P.; Masinde, B.; CABI, 2014, English language
Namuwaya, D. S. C.; CABI, 2017, English language
CABI; CABI, 2017, Portuguese language
UK, CABI; CABI, 2018, English language
External factsheets
University of California factsheets, University of California, 2016, English language
Canadian Food Inspection Agency factsheets, Government of Canada, 2016, English language
KARI E-mimea Plant Clinic Factsheets, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, 2014, English language
KALRO e mimea factsheets, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, 2014, English language
DAFF Plant Health Posters, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, English language
Video factsheets
Koppert Pest Control videos, Koppert Biological Systems, 2016, Spanish language
Koppert Pest Control videos, Koppert Biological Systems, 2016, English language
Koppert Pest Control videos, Koppert Biological Systems, 2016, English language
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