Narcissus bulb fly

Heavy attacks of narcissus bulb fly larvae can kill daffodil bulbs and some other plants in the Amaryllidaceae. This can lead to a severely reduced spring display.

Narcissus bulb fly

Quick facts

Common name Large narcissus bulb fly and small bulb flies
Latin name Merodon equestrisEumerus strigatus and E. funeralis
Plants affected Daffodil, Narcissus, snowdrop, hippeastrum
Main symptoms Centre of the bulb eaten and filled with muddy excrement. Usually just one maggot inside the bulb (Large narcissus bulb fly)
Caused by Larvae of a fly
Timing Adults mid May-June; larvae July-March

What is narcissus bulb fly?

Bulb flies can attack Narcissus (daffodils) and some other bulbs in the Amaryllidaceae including Crinum, Eucharis, Galanthus (snowdrop), Haemanthus, Hippeastrum, Ismene, Leucojum, Nerine, Sprekelia and Vallota.  Occasionally the underground storage organs of other families, such as Lachenalia, Iris and Scilla, can be attacked by the larvae of two different types of fly.

The more serious problem can be large narcissus bulb fly (Merodon equestris), as this has larvae that can attack and destroy healthy bulbs. The large bulb fly is not native to the UK but since it was first reported in the late 1800s has become widespread.

Maggots of small bulb flies (Eumerus strugatus and E. funeralis) are usually a secondary problem that infest bulbs that have already been damaged by another pest, disease or physical damage.

Symptoms

Signs of an infestation include;

  • Affected bulbs are often killed or produce a few grass-like leaves but no flowers. This should not to be confused with daffodil blindness
  • The centre of the bulb is eaten out by a plump, creamy white maggot that is up to 18mm long. This is the large narcissus bulb fly (Merodon equestris) which is a primary problem that can attack healthy bulbs
  • The centre of the bulb is filled with the larva’s muddy excrement
  • If there are several creamy white maggots, up to 6 mm long, in a decaying bulb, these are likely to be larvae of small bulb flies (Eumerus strigatus and E. funeralis). These are usually a secondary problem only found in  bulbs that have already been damaged by other pests, diseases or have been injured

Control

Non-chemical control

Adult bulb flies like warm sheltered places, so the level of infestation can be reduced by growing daffodils in more shaded and exposed places.

After flowering, firm down the soil around the plants to make it more difficult for female flies to deposit eggs.

Avoid introducing large narcissus bulb fly and other bulb problems into your garden by buying firm, good quality bulbs from reputable suppliers. Newly acquired high value bulbs can be protected by covering the area where they have been planted with insect-proof mesh, during mid-May to June when the female flies are laying eggs.

Any plants which show signs of bulb fly attack in the spring should be dug up and disposed of before the maggots leave the bulbs to pupate in the soil. 

Chemical control

None of the pesticides available to home gardeners will control large narcissus bulb fly larvae.

Biology

Adult large narcissus bulb flies are about 15 mm long and resemble small bumblebees, but like all flies they only have one pair of wings. They have hairy bodies that vary in colour – some are yellowish brown, while others have bands of black, white and/or brown hairs. They emerge on sunny days in mid-May to June, when the females seek out suitable host plants.

Eggs are usually laid on the neck of the bulbs. After hatching, the maggot crawls down to the bottom of the bulb and enters through the basal plate. Once inside, the maggot eats the central portion of the bulb, including next year’s flower buds. The maggot is fully grown by late winter – early spring of the following year.

The larva usually leaves the bulb and pupates in the soil nearby.

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