Ceratitis capitata

Ceratitis capitata

Ceratitis capitata, the Mediterranean fruit fly, or medfly for short, is a species of fruit fly capable of wreaking extensive damage to a wide range of fruit crops. It is native to the Mediterranean area, but has spread invasively to many parts of the world, including Australasia and North and South America.

Life cycle

Adult medflies lay their eggs under the skins of fruit, particularly where the skin is already broken. The eggs hatch within three days, and the larvae develop inside the fruit. The adults have a limited ability to disperse, but the global fruit trade can transport infected fruit over thousands of miles.


In the United States, C. capitata has invaded four states (Hawaii, California, Texas and Florida), but has been eradicated from all but Hawaii. It has also been eradicated from New Zealand and Chile.

California medfly crisis

Much research has been dedicated to means of controlling the medfly. In particular, use of the sterile insect technique has allowed the species to be eradicated from several areas.

In 1982, California Governor Jerry Brown, who had established a reputation as a strong environmentalist, was confronted with a serious medfly infestation in the San Francisco Bay Area. Under heavy pressure from the state's agricultural industry, which believed that billions of dollars worth of crops were threatened, Brown authorized a massive response to the infestation. Fleets of helicopters sprayed malathion at night, and the California National Guard set up highway checkpoints and collected many tons of local fruit; in the final stage of the campaign, entomologists released millions of sterile male medflies in an attempt to disrupt the insects' reproductive cycle.

Ultimately the infestation was eradicated, but the scale of the action has remained controversial ever since. Some people claimed that malathion was toxic to humans, as well as insects. In response to such concerns, Brown's chief of staff, B.T. Collins, staged a news conference during which he publicly drank a small glass of malathion. Many people complained that, while the malathion may not have been very toxic to humans, the aerosol spray containing it was corrosive to car-paint.

During the week of September 9, 2007, adult flies and their larvae were found in Dixon, California. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and cooperating county and federal agricultural officials have started eradication and quarantine efforts in the area.


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