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Flea Beetle

Closer Look Of The Flea BeetleSmall beetles that feed mainly on the leaves of plants, large numbers of which can cover leaves with bleached, pitted areas and small holes. When disturbed, they jump about like fleas, hence the name "flea beetle." Some species attack any vegetable plant, while others have a more restricted list. Flea beetles reproduce underground, and only the adults are normally seen on plants. They are not considered a serious pest, in the sense that they kill vegetable plants, and normally do not attack the vegetable (fruit) of the plant, but can do moderate damage and make the leaves not very desirable, such as a cabbage. Some beetles, such as the tuber flea beetle, scar the surface of potatoes, or even bores into them, causing holes and discoloration. Flea beetles cause the greatest damage to young plants by feeding on cotyledons, stems, and foliage. Plants injured by flea beetles are more susceptible to viral infections, such as tomato anthracnose, potato blight, potato scab, or bacterial wilt to corn.


The Adult Flea BeetleThe adults are small, being only about 1/16th inch long, are many times shiny black, with large hind legs, and will jump when approached. They can take many colors, from green, brown to black, sometimes with white or yellow stripes running down their backs, but are most usually a single color. They normally feed on the underside of plant leaves where they chew small round holes, about 1/8” in diameter, which give the leaf the appearance of being peppered or shot holed. Although mature plants can usually tolerate such damage, small plants are more vulnerable and will many times succumb to flea beetle attacks.

With most species of flea beetle, the adults overwinter underground or beneath plant debris. During April and May, they become active, mate, and deposit their eggs. They can jump from plant to plant, preferring younger, smaller plants to attack. Their favorite host is the eggplant, which they can completely defoliate in no time!


Adult flea beetles lay eggs at the base of host plants, usually in May, which hatch in one to two weeks. The legless, normally gray young will burrow into the roots, which can stunt future growth and affect vitality. There are usually two generations per year.


Flea Beetle LarvaeThe larvae will feed on any part of the plant they can reach until they begun to pupate. This often means the plant roots, where they burrow and can cause damage or stunted growth to young seedlings. Sometimes the larvae will enter the stems of the plant and do harm here. Typical flea beetle larva are delicate, whitish, slender cylindrical worms, not over 1/3 inch long, sometimes with a brown head and three pairs of legs near its head. They feed on the roots for two to three weeks.


Flea Beetle PupaWhen the larvae are mature, they form an underground earthen cell, enter the inactive pupae stage for 10-14 days, and emerge as adult flea beetles. Shaped roughly like adults, pupae are found in the soil and are white at first, but gradually darken. Adults emerge and a second generation begins.

Vegetables That Flea Beetles Like To Eat

Beets Corn Peppers Tomatoes
Broccoli Eggplant Potatoes Turnips
Brussels Sprouts Horseradish Radishes
Cabbage Kohlrabi Rhubarb


Using floating row covers (see picture at left) will protect your young vegetable plants from the adult laying their eggs on or near your plants. (See Bill's Projects for making your own row cover supports) Set out white or yellow sticky traps to see how many flea beetles are in the area.

Carbaryl will normally kill flea beetles, but should be used only as a last resort, and only during a major infestation. For organic gardeners, azadirachtin has been reported most effective. Rotenone will also kill the pests. Other remedies that have been reported with some success are trick #8, mix #1 and mix #18.

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