Combatting Hessian Flies: A Comprehensive Guide to Hessian Fly Control

Introduction to Hessian Flies

Hessian flies (Mayetiola destructor) are small insects that pose a significant threat to wheat and other cereal crops. Named after the Hessian soldiers who are believed to have brought the pest to North America during the Revolutionary War, these flies can wreak havoc on crops. Understanding their life cycle, behavior, and the damage they cause is the first step in developing effective control strategies.

Life Cycle of Hessian Flies


Hessian flies begin their life cycle as eggs laid by females on the leaves of host plants. The eggs are red and laid in clusters, usually hatching within a week.


After hatching, the larvae move to the base of the plant, where they feed on the stem. As they feed, they inject toxins into the plant that stunt its growth. The larvae eventually pupate, forming what are called “flaxseeds.”

Pupation and Adults

The pupation stage occurs within the flaxseeds, which are brown and seed-like. Adult flies emerge from these pupal cases, ready to mate and lay eggs, thus completing the life cycle.

Identifying Hessian Fly Damage

Stunting and Malformation

The most noticeable sign of Hessian fly infestation is stunting and malformation of the plants. The injected toxins cause the leaves to become twisted and discolored, resulting in weakened plants.

Yield Reduction

In severe infestations, Hessian flies can lead to significant yield reductions. The feeding larvae damage the plant’s ability to uptake water and nutrients, leading to poor growth and decreased grain production.

Secondary Infections

The wounds created by feeding larvae often become entry points for secondary infections by fungi and bacteria. These secondary infections can exacerbate the damage caused by the flies.

Methods to Control Hessian Flies

Crop Rotation

Crop rotation is a proven strategy to disrupt the life cycle of Hessian flies. By planting non-host crops in successive seasons, the pest’s population can be reduced.

Resistant Varieties

Planting wheat and other cereal varieties that are resistant to Hessian flies is an effective way to mitigate damage. These varieties are bred to resist the toxins injected by the larvae, minimizing the harm.

Chemical Control

Specific insecticides are available that can effectively kill Hessian flies at various stages of their life cycle. However, chemical control should be used judiciously and in conjunction with other strategies to prevent resistance development.

Monitoring and Thresholds

Regular monitoring of crops for signs of Hessian fly infestation can help in early detection and intervention. Implementing control measures when infestation levels reach specific thresholds ensures that the measures are both necessary and effective.

Biological Control

Certain natural enemies, such as parasitic wasps, prey on Hessian flies and can be used as part of an integrated pest management strategy. Encouraging these natural enemies can help keep Hessian fly populations in check.

Understanding Hessian Fly Behavior

Hessian flies display certain behavioral traits that can be leveraged in control strategies. For example, they are known to prefer laying eggs on certain colors and textures of plants.

Influence of Weather

Weather conditions significantly impact Hessian fly populations. Cold winters can reduce survival rates, while mild, wet conditions can favor their proliferation. Understanding these weather-related patterns helps in predicting and managing infestations.

Attraction to Specific Plant Traits

Hessian flies are attracted to specific plant traits, such as color and texture. This understanding can be used to develop trap crops or other targeted interventions.


Hessian flies are a complex and damaging pest that requires a multifaceted approach for effective control. By understanding their life cycle, behavior, and the damage they cause, farmers and gardeners can implement targeted strategies, ranging from crop rotation and resistant varieties to chemical, biological, and behavioral controls. The fight against Hessian flies is not a simple one, but with knowledge, vigilance, and integrated strategies, it is a battle that can be won.