Leaf miner

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Leaf miner damage to a horse chestnut tree
Leaf with minor miner damage
Tomato with leaf miner damage
Leaf mines by the moth Phyllocnistis hyperpersea on a Persea borbonia leaf
Leaf miner trail on a fallen leaf in a Gondwana cool temperate rainforest. Note the initial thin width of the insect trail, becoming wider as the insect grows while it navigates around the leaf. Cryptocarya foveolata from Cobark Park, Barrington Tops, Australia

A leaf miner is any one of numerous species of insects in which the larval stage lives in, and eats, the leaf tissue of plants. The vast majority of leaf-mining insects are moths (Lepidoptera), sawflies (Symphyta, the mother clade of wasps), and flies (Diptera). Some beetles also exhibit this behavior.

Like woodboring beetles, leaf miners are protected from many predators and plant defenses by feeding within the tissues of the leaves, selectively eating only the layers that have the least amount of cellulose. When attacking Quercus robur (English oak), they also selectively feed on tissues containing lower levels of tannin, a deterrent chemical produced in great abundance by the tree.[1]

The pattern of the feeding tunnel and the layer of the leaf being mined is often diagnostic of the insect responsible, sometimes even to species level. The mine often contains frass, or droppings, and the pattern of frass deposition, mine shape, and host plant identity are useful to determine the species and instar of the leaf miner. Some mining insects feed in other parts of a plant, such as the surface of a fruit or the petal of a flower.

It has been suggested that some patterns of leaf variegation may be part of a defensive strategy employed by plants to deceive adult leaf miners into thinking that a leaf has already been preyed upon.[2][3]

Leaf-mining species[edit]

One common leaf-mining species in New Zealand is Scaptomyza flava. The species is particularly problematic for plants in the family Brassiceae, more commonly known as mustard plants.[4]

Relationship with humans[edit]

Leaf miners are regarded as pests by many farmers and gardeners as they can cause damage to agricultural crops and garden plants, and can be difficult to control with insecticide sprays as they are protected inside the plant's leaves. Spraying the infected plants with spinosad, an organic insecticide, can control some leaf miners. Spinosad does not kill on contact and must be ingested by the leaf miner. Two or three applications may be required in a season. However, this will have harmful ecological effects, especially if sprayed when bees or other beneficial arthropods are present.[5][6]

Leaf miner infection of crops can be reduced or prevented by planting trap crops near the plants to be protected. For example, lambsquarter and columbine will distract leaf miners, drawing them to those plants and therefore reducing the incidence of attack on nearby crops. This is a method of companion planting.[7]

Phyllocnistis magnoliella in magnolia leaf.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Paper linking Quercus species and the leaf miner
  2. ^ Walker, Matt (19 June 2009). "The plant that pretends to be ill". BBC News. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  3. ^ Soltau, U.; Dötterl, S.; Liede-Schumann, S. (2009). "Leaf variegation in Caladium steudneriifolium (Araceae) – A case of mimicry?". Evolutionary Ecology. 23 (4): 503–512. doi:10.1007/s10682-008-9248-2. S2CID 5033305.
  4. ^ Martin, N. A. (2004-01-01). "History of an invader, Scaptomyza flava (Fallen, 1823) (Diptera: Drosophilidae)". New Zealand Journal of Zoology. 31 (1): 27–32. doi:10.1080/03014223.2004.9518356. ISSN 0301-4223. S2CID 85011777.
  5. ^ Tomé, Hudson Vaner; Barbosa, Wagner; Martins, Gustavo F.; Guedes, Raul Narciso (2015). "Spinosad in the native stingless bee Melipona quadrifasciata: Regrettable non-target toxicity of a bioinsecticide". Chemosphere. 124: 105–109. Bibcode:2015Chmsp.124..103T. doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2014.11.038. PMID 25496737. Retrieved 4 September 2021.
  6. ^ Pasquet, Alain; Tupiner, Nora; Mazzia, Christophe; Capowiez, Yvan (August 25, 2015). "Exposure to spinosad affects orb-web spider (Agalenatea redii) survival, web construction and prey capture under laboratory conditions". Journal of Pest Science. 89 (2): 507–515. doi:10.1007/s10340-015-0691-x. S2CID 6156257. Retrieved 4 September 2021.
  7. ^ "Companion planting and trap cropping vegetables". University of Minnesota Extension. University of Minnesota Extension.

External links[edit]