Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
How to Identify and Get Rid of Flea Beetles
Flea beetles can be very destructive to a wide variety of plants, so be sure to take preventative measures.Greg Bryant, North Carolina State University
Here are tips on how to identify, control, and get rid of flea beetles.
What are Flea Beetles?
What is that flea-like insect that looks like a small beetle? The bothersome flea beetle!
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 or other colors, solid, or spotted depending on the species. They are tiny garden bugs at only 1/16 inch in length. You can see them if you approach quietly, but they will spring away quickly if disturbed.
Adult flea beetles overwinter in brush and wooded areas. They pose a threat early in the planting season as they are emerging, typically when weather reaches 50ºF.
Flea Beetle Damage
Look for shotholes in leaves, especially on young seedlings, where damage is most rapid and will cause the most harm. The holes they make will be round and can quickly damage leafy greens. New leaves are usually damaged first, and they will have a lacy appearance.
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.
Photo Credit: University of California White Mountain Research Center. Flea beetles can cause leaves to appear lacy after they’ve caused a lot of damage.
Control and Prevention
How to Get Rid of Flea Beetles
- Try this homemade spray to control flea beetles: 2 cups rubbing alcohol, 5 cups water, and 1 tablespoon liquid soap. Test out the mixture on a leaf of the plant, let it sit overnight, then spray the rest of the plant if you don’t notice any adverse effects. Spray the mixture on the foliage of garden plants that are susceptible to these pests.
- Dusting your plants with plain talcum powder repels flea beetles on tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and other plants.
- Use white sticky traps to capture flea beetles as they jump.
- 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.
Photo Credit: Jeff Hahn, University of Minnesota Extension. If you didn’t take preventative measures, it might be impossible to stop the flea beetle damage.
How to Prevent 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.
- 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.
- Flea beetles are repelled by catnip and basil. They are attracted by nasturtium and radishes. You can plant these as traps for the flea beetles so that they do not attack other more valuable plants.
- Check out these tips to attract beneficial insects, which will prey on flea beetles.