Microlepidoptera on Solanaceae

Tuta absoluta


Tuta absoluta (Meyrick, 1917)

Common names: tomato borer, South American tomato moth, tomato leaf miner, South American tomato pinworm (English); polilla del tomate, polilla perforadora, cogollero del tomate, gusano minador del tomate, minador de hojas y tallos de la papa (Spanish); traça-do-tomateiro (Portuguese).

Original combination: Phthorimaea absoluta Meyrick, 1917

Synonyms: none

Alternative combinations:

  • Gnorimoschema absoluta
  • Scrobipalpula absoluta
  • Scrobipalpuloides absoluta

Classification: Gelechiidae: Gelechiinae: Gnorimoschemini

Adult recognition

Adults are about 4.2-5.0 mm in forewing length. They are gray, mottled with dark gray and yellowish orange. The labial palpus is upturned. The male genitalia have a broad, horseshoe-shaped gnathos and a digitate valva with a medial hump and constriction. The vinculum is broad, deeply excavated medially and with paired trapezoid-shaped processes with outwardly curved tips. Females have segment eight with a strongly sclerotized plate with an arched proximal margin, and the inner edge is folded and covered with a foam-like texture. The antrum is long and broadly funnel-shaped, extending beyond the apophysis anterioris, and the corpus bursae has a small, thorn-like signum.

Immature stages

Larvae when fully grown are about 7.5 mm, cream in color with a dark head, becoming greenish to light pink in the second to fourth instars. The prothoracic shield is pale, with dark shading along posterior margin (young specimens often lack posterior shading). The prespiracular pinaculum is usually absent or poorly developed so that all three L setae are separate.

PDF - Dichotomous key to Gelechiid larvae

Similar species

This species is superficially similar to Keiferia lycopersicella and several Scrobipalpa species, especially S. atriplicella (Fischer von Röslerstamm). It can be distinguished by the absence of hair-pencils on the male hindwing, which are present in K. lycopersicella, and by the slender forewing, which is larger and broader in S. atriplicella. Tuta absoluta can be differentiated most reliably by the male genital characters: the valva is digitate and the gnathos is ovate.

Tuta absoluta and Keiferia lycopersicella are the only species in this ID Tool that have a dark band on the posterior margin of the prothoracic shield. Tuta absoluta has a wide distribution and host range. It is easily confused with the North American species K. lycopersicella, also a tomato pest. The two are very similar but may be separated by the cuticular texture of the dorsum of the posterior abdominal segments. Keiferia lycopersicella has round to pointed microgranules each bearing a short microspine or none. This same region in Tuta absoluta has granules with long microspines. Comparative material of both species is helpful to see this difference. Living larvae may show color differences lost in preserved specimens. Early instars of either species will be difficult to recognize with morphology.


Eggs are mainly laid on the underside of leaves. After hatching, larvae penetrate and make irregular mines in leaves, aerial fruits or stems on which they feed and develop. Larvae feed on all part of the host-plants, and feeding habits vary from leaf-mining to boring into buds, stalks and fruits. Larvae do not enter diapause as long as a food source is available. When larvae are fully fed, they usually drop to the ground on silk thread and pupate in the soil, although pupation may also occur on leaves.


Native to South America. Currently broadly distributed in South America, Central America and the Caribbean, Europe, Northern Africa, and Asia.


Datura ferox L. (Fierce thorn apple)

Datura stramonium L. (Jimsonweed)

Lycium chilense Bertero

Lycopersicon hirsutum Donal.

Nicotiana glauca Graham (Tree tobacco)

Solanum elaeagnifolium Cav. (Silverleaf nightshade)

Solanum habrochaites S. Knapp & D.M. Spooner (Wild tomato)

Solanum lycopersicum L. (Garden tomato)

Solanum lyratum Thunb.

Solanum melongena L. (Eggplant)

Solanum muricatum Ait. (Pepino dulce)

Solanum nigrum L. (Black nightshade)

Solanum viride G. Forst ex Spreng. (Green nightshade)


Since this species was first described from South America, it has been spreading rapidly as a serious pest of tomato crops in Europe, North Africa, and South America. Damage caused by this species can reach up to 100%. This damage occurs throughout the entire growing cycle of tomatoes. In tomato, apical buds, leaves, stems, flowers and fruits are attacked; however, in potato, aerial parts and tuber are attacked.

This exotic pest is of quarantine significance and any suspects should be forwarded to specialists, including any of the authors of this guide.


Barrientos et al., 1998.

Clarke, 1962.

Clarke, 1965.

Desneux et al., 2010.

EPPO, 2005b.

EPPO, 2008.

Photo credits

Fig. 7: © Marja J. van der Straten, NPPO (The Netherlands).