Fruit & Vinegar Flies 

- Two very different flies -

Summary: True fruit flies infest fruit and are about the size of a house fly whereas vinegar flies (also sometimes called "fruit flies") are small flies with large red eyes that infest rotting fruit and sometimes invade kitchens.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

One name, two flies

The common name fruit fly is used for two very different flies. The small fly that you find sometimes in kitchens, around the salad bar at restaurants or in the compost bin is actually the vinegar or pomace fly (right; more vinegar fly pictures) while the larger fly that infests tree fruit is properly named fruit fly, or picture-wing fly (Tephritidae; fruit fly pictures). However, most people, including many entomologists, call both "fruit flies". Confused? Small fly found indoors = vinegar fly, larger fly that infests tree fruit = fruit fly.

Vinegar flies are small, brownish flies with distinctive red eyes (above). Larvae of vinegar flies feed on the decay fungi in overripe or rotting fruit. Adult female flies lay their eggs in the skins of vegetables and fruit. Vinegar flies are also widely used in genetics research.

vinegar fly
Vinegar fly, sometimes also called a fruit fly. Notice large red eyes.

Vinegar flies cause no direct damage to vegetables or fruit but can be a nuisance when present in large numbers. "Fruit Fly Traps" are available for use in kitchens. Proper disposal of vegetable compost is usually all that is needed to eliminate vinegar flies.

Find "fruit fly" (vinegar fly) traps and more control suggestions here (, our affiliate)

True fruit flies

True fruit flies [picture of fruit fly] are about the size of common house flies. They are distinguished from other, similar flies, by the dark banding of the wings which gives them one of their common names -- the picture wing flies. Fruit fly larvae, or maggots, infest tree fruit often causing considerable damage. Common destructive species are apple maggot, cherry fruit fly and Mediterranean fruit fly (Med fly).

Fruit fly control in fruit orchards

Gardeners that grow fruit trees must protect fruit from infestation in regions where these flies occur. Unprotected fruit may be rendered unusable by fruit fly maggots. Cover sprays of insecticides are sometimes used but least-toxic approaches now include sticky ball traps, pheromones and low toxicity cover sprays.

The Backyard Orchardist (left) is a good place to start for information regarding controlling these pests in your orchard in least toxic ways. Be aware, however, that since pesticide regulations change each year you'll need updated information to find the best cover sprays for fruit flies.

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