Here are tips on how to identify, eliminate, and control flea beetles.
What are Flea Beetles?
There are many species of flea beetles which attack numerous plants, but vegetable crops are most susceptible to these pests. Flea beetles are so named because of their ability to jump like fleas when bothered. The beetles are small and shiny, with large rear legs. Eggs are laid at the base of plant stems in early summer after a feeding period, and larvae feed at the roots. Adult beetles, about 1/16 inch long, feed on foliage, producing “shotholes” in the leaves.
How to Identify Flea Beetles
Flea beetles vary from black to tan, solid or spotted depending on the species. Adult flea beetles over winter in brush and wooded areas. They pose a threat early in planting season as they are emerging, typically when weather reaches 50 degrees. Look for shotholes in leaves, especially on young seedlings, where damage is most rapid and will cause the most harm. Flea beetles usually don’t cause fatal damage to established plants because the leaves are too large. The real danger is that they can spread bacterial diseases, such as wilt and blight, from plant to plant. Therefore, they must be controlled at once.
How to get rid of Flea Beetles
- In the spring, emerging flea beetles will be waiting to feast on your garden. Cut off their food supply by delaying transplanting or planting by a couple weeks if possible.
- In the fall, till the garden to unearth any hiding flea beetles. This will also make soil easier to work the next spring.
- Try this homemade spray to control flea beetles: 2 parts rubbing alcohol, 5 parts water, and 1 tablespoon liquid soap. Spray the mixture on the foliage of garden plants that are susceptible to these pests.
- Row covers may be successful at keeping these pests out, as long as they are completely sealed. They should be used immediately after transplanting, so the pests do not have time to find the plant.
- Insecticides may be used early in the season, but are generally unnecessary in the control of flea beetles on adult plants. Be extra diligent if your soil has history of bacterial diseases. Please contact your local nursery or cooperative extension for further advice.