They belong to the family of Chrysomelidae, which has more than 50,000 species. The colors can be different depending on the species. Most of them, however, will be black, bronze, tan, brown, blue, or metallic gray, among others. They are very small insects and their length usually ranges from 1/16 to 1/8 inch. They have large legs on the back, which they use to jump from one plant to another, allowing them to spread the infestation. In fact, they got their name from their jumping behavior, which makes them comparable to fleas. However, take note that they jump with their legs only when you disturb them.
Flea Beetle’s Habitat
During the winter, adult flea beetles are common under decaying vegetation or leaf litter. They start being active in the first weeks of spring. The females will lay their eggs on the leaves, soil, and roots. When the eggs hatch, the larvae will crawl on young plants and they will pupate on the ground. The feeding activity of flea beetles is more common in environments that are sunny and dry. When it is cold and damp, they tend to slow down. Nonetheless, despite the reduction of their activity level, they will still survive in low temperatures.
Identifying Flea Beetle’s Damage
The host plants will depend on the species of the flea beetle. The cabbage flea beetle, for instance, affects plants that belong to the cabbage family. On the other hand, pale-striped flea beetle is a pest for weeds, sunflower, potato, lettuce, corn, beans, and squash, among others. Meanwhile, potato flea beetle feeds on potato, tomato, and nightshade plants. Other host plants of the different species of flea beetle include kale, broccoli, horseradish, eggplant, grape, currants, and willow, among others.
The following are some of the most common signs that will be reflective of the presence of flea beetles:
- One of the most common is the appearance of winding and shallow grooves on the surface of the fruit of the host plant. Because larvae will burrow in the fruit, there will be small holes, which serve as their entry point.
- They also cause cosmetic damage that is known as shotholing, which is a result of the adults chewing the leaves. The holes can vary in size, but they usually have a diameter of 1/16 to1/8 inch.
- Flea beetles can also lead to crop stress. In turn, this will limit the nutrients that the plant is able to absorb. Some of the things that can happen include reduction in crop yield, stunting, wilting, dryness, and discoloration, among others.
Results of Infestation
In most cases, the infestation of flea beetles leads to cosmetic damages to their host plant, affecting its different parts. The leaves, fruits, and roots are some of the portions wherein the damages are highly visible. It limits the nutrients that the host plant receives. In turn, this contributes to wilting, and soon, the plant will die. It follows that growers will suffer from a reduction of yield and there will be significant economic losses as well.
How to Get Rid of Flea Beetles
Natural and Organic Solutions
Below are some of the best solutions that will allow you to eliminate flea beetles without the need to resort to toxic methods:
- Among others, mechanical and physical controls are some of the most promising. With this, one thing you can do is to hand-pick the flea beetles. By knowing where they survive, it will be easy to determine their presence. Throw them in a bucket of soapy water. This will kill the beetles in an instant. You can also use a vacuum cleaner to take the pest out of the foliage.
- You can also place yellow sticky traps around the host plant. Position it on the surface. Leave it until it is full of beetles. When it is no longer sticky, replace the trap. The sticky surface will make sure that beetles will not be able to escape. Be sure to throw it properly or burn the trap to kill the pest and to prevent them from finding their way back to the host.
- Biological controls will also yield a high level of effectiveness. You need to attract beneficial insects and nematodes in the garden. They will feed on the flea beetles. Among others, parasitoid wasps will be an excellent choice, as well as lacewing larvae, damsel bugs, and big-eyed bugs, among others. While you can buy them, it will also be good to have flowering plants in the garden, which is a good way to attract these natural predators.
- Fungal pathogens will make the perfect alternative to chemical control. It is a form of biological pesticide, so there is no need to worry about toxicity. One of the best examples of this is Beauveria bassiana, which causes a disease that can lessen the population of flea beetles. It produces toxins that liquify the body of the beetle, and hence, killing it.
- Dusting is another simple solution that will prove effective. Using plain talcum powder will work in getting rid of flea beetles, especially those species that affect peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes, among others.
It is common for many commercial growers to use chemical pesticides in getting rid of flea beetles. While it can be effective, keep in mind that they produce broad spectrum action, which is why they kill not only the pest, but even the beneficial insects. Also, because there are toxic ingredients, professional application is necessary.
Among others, Sevin is one of the most popular brands for insecticide that is effective for flea beetles. It contains carbaryl, which kills the pest. Other popular products include Ripcord, which contains cypermethrin, and Furadan, which contains carbofuran.
How to Prevent Flea Beetles
One of the best preventive measures is planting trap crops, which include Napa cabbage and arugula. They will attract the flea beetles and will help to control their population before you proceed in planting the main crop. It will also be good to have plants that will repel flea beetles, such as basil and catnip. The use of row covers will also help to keep them out of the plant. Tilling the soil is also an effective solution, especially if you do it in the fall. This will help to expose the beetles under the soil and will also help to get rid of the eggs before they hatch.