Flea Beetles

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.

Reader Comments

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flea beetles on tomato leaves

I sprayed one leaf with the alcohol/water/liquid mixture yesterday. The leaf turned brown and curled. Any other ideas? Maybe less alcohol?

Reduce Alcohol

Yes, dilute the mixture with more water. Try doubling the amount of water and testing again.

Alder flea beetles

My alder trees get these guys every year. I tried to wrap fly paper around the trunks this year and it appears to have helped a bit, but do they fly up from the ground into the upper areas of the trees or do they migrate up the trunks into the leaves? If they travel up the trunk, sticky tape would seem to be a possibility for controlling them. Any ideas? I lost an ancient singleton alder years ago from these bugs. If left alone, they can do significant damage.

eliminating flea beetles

We turned to the experts for help with this one, Roderineo, especially because you have them in your trees. Because the fleas seem to overwinter in the leaf and plant residue at the base of the trees (see the following), you might consider cleaning up those areas.

• Here’s a forest management site that describes their life cycle: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5186816.pdf

• Here’s the Oregon Cooperative Extension: http://oregonstate.edu/dept/nurspest/alder%20flea%20beetle.htm

• Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society has very good information; here’s what they say about this: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=850

We hope this helps!


what is it when I grow turnip the get holes all through them underground in the little turnips ive never seen any bugs could it be cutworms and how do I get rid of them?

turnip holes

Hi, Ken, It could be cabbage maggots, which are the larvae of the cabbage root fly. They love turnips. The most efficient preventative is to use floating row cover (light-weight “cloth”) in such a way that it creates a tunnel and is secued at ground level on all sides (and ends). The cover can touch the plants, but should be loose enough as to not constrict growth of the plant. We hope this helps!

tomato insect

I'm not sure that I have flea beetles because they don't try to jump away (or flee.. yuk) when pulled off my tomato plants. They tend to cling to the leaf. They are dark black, a tad shiny and shaped like a football with a somewhat rounded tail and a bit more pointed head. They are very small, 1/16" or smaller. They do have wings, small antenna and appear to have eight legs. Aside from that, they eat small elongated holes in the leaf and may have been responsible for yellowing of the plant especially on the bottom 1/4 of the plant. However, plant food seems to have helped with the yellowing. I applied Sevin spray this morning and hope that helps. Are these flea beetle and what else can I try if the spray doesn't help?

flea beetles

How large are the "parts" of alcohol and water? You specify 1 Tablespoon liquid soap, but not the amount of alcohol and water to which it is added.

flea beetle spray

You’re right, Linda. It seems we’ve mixed apples and oranges here. We suggest mixing 5 cups water with 2 cups alcohol plus 1 tablespoon of liquid soap.

Alcohol concentration for flea beetle spray

I'm thinking ahead to the next growing season and how best to combat the flea beetles that always destroy my Brassicas. I rent a plot in a community garden, so I don't have as many options as I would on my own land. In looking at your alcohol spray, it seems a little heavy on the alcohol, and I wonder if it might burn young plants. Is there a minimum ratio of alcohol to water that would still be effective against these pests, or is it just trial and error? Also, I have heard that vinegar can help. Do you have any thoughts on this and what might be a good ratio of vinegar to water to deter the beetles but not damage the plants? Thanks.

alcohol and vinegar sprays

The Editors's picture

I’m not sure if a study has been done as to the minimum ratio of alcohol/water plus soap for effectiveness. However, you are right to be concerned about burning plants. With alcohol sprays, always test a solution on a small area before spraying an entire plant or crop; some plants may be more sensitive than others. You might try a solution with a small percentage of alcohol to water and work up to determine the minimum you can use and still have it be effective. As to vinegar, same precautions. One must be very careful about proportions, or as you have read, the vinegar’s acetic acid can kill plants (at higher concentrations, vinegar is used as an herbicide). Some sources suggest avoiding using it at all, especially on vegetables or flowers. Others suggest 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar, and only spraying leaves. If you try this route, you might try diluting the solution even further, then testing on a small area first. Hope this helps!

blue flea beetles

We have stacks of blue flea beetles on our land and see them as a blessing. They got on top of the dreaded buzzies and congregate in large clusters on dying vegetation. Our little granddaughter treats them as pets. They are most welcome apart from being beautiful.

Blue beetles

We have these little suckers everywhere on our property. Vegetable garden, strawberry patch and the house garden and natives. Any clues how to treat. Not sure about the rubbing alcohol on food we will be eating. And how to treat such a large area.

The Beetle Blues

Hi, Betty: Sorry to hear! It sounds like these might be blue milkweed beetles, which always pose a tricky problem because hosts for them like milkweed and oleander, which you would want to eliminate if nearby, are also beneficial to monarch butterflies and others. The best thing to do is bite the bullet and try to physically remove as many as possible by plucking or even using a handheld battery-operated vac. Another option is an organic insecticide applied very specifically to aggregations of beetles where found. It’s important to try to do this before they lay their eggs, so alacrity is of the essence. Good luck!

Heres another trick to try as well

Take old coffee grounds and about 5 or so drops of hot sauce care not to use much hot sauce as it can burn roots but put that at base of all plants .. For leaves i use flour once a week on all my plants.. The only down side i seen with flour was little dough balls in my yard but they go away in a short period of time after it rains i reapply everything again

Do shining flea beetles bit

Do shining flea beetles bit and we found one in our house but we don't have any plants inside or outside our home

Is there any risk in eating

Is there any risk in eating the plants that were infected with flea beetles? My entire crop of Arugula was infested and now my Brussels sprouts are getting eaten as well. I am also noticing small brown balls where they sprouts are growing. Any advice is appreciated.



The corn earworm is the

The corn earworm is the larvae of a tan night-flying moth. Wait 'til the ears start to fill out and put 1 or 2 drops of mineral or vegetable oil on the silks. You can also treat the corn with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).

Mineral oil. A few drops into

Mineral oil. A few drops into the silks at top of ear. Works like a charm

I noticed flea beetles

I noticed flea beetles several weeks ago. Treated with the alcohol spray mentioned above and then about a week later, the plants I sprayed showed leaf damage (looked like I'd burnt the leaves). I stopped using it immediately. After researching a bit more, I think if I could do it over, I'd spray only after 5PM to be sure to protect sprayed leaves from sun. Anyway, plants seemed to recover well, but this week I've noticed sections of my otherwise healthy looking potato plants start to wilt (not the whole thing, just one wilty stem coming directly from ground on each plant). Only pest I'm really seeing a lot of at this point is flea beetles and I have lots of tiny little holes on leaves. But plants still have been full, and nice and green for the most part. I was just hoping the flea beetle issue wouldn't prove too harmful. Now I'm wondering if my wilting problem might be due to their larva. Is this possible? If so, what's the best way to get rid of the larva fast? I've read about diatomaceous earth but can't find it locally. Is there any home remedy?

A good organic solution is to

A good organic solution is to apply nematodes to your garden soil. The nematodes will kill any flea beetle larvae present in the soil. Neem oil spray is recommended to spry on leaves of plants. Sticky tape placed between the rows of potatoes will catch adult flea beetles.

No sticky tape outdoors

Sticky tape outdoors is a danger to small animals and birds.

trồng trọt

dầu Neem là giải pháp tuyệt vời . có tác dụng nhanh và rất an toàn cho rau của bạn

You can find diatomaceous

You can find diatomaceous earth at pool and spa stores. It is used in some filtering systems. It is much cheaper at these stores than at organic supply, of gardening supply stores.

Please be sure any

Please be sure any diatomaceous earth you use on your garden is food safe. The DE sold at pool stores is NOT food safe and not safe to eat. Also remember to read the label of any DE insecticide because most contain additional ingredients that are poisonous to humans and animals. Only food grade DE is safe to eat. Also be sure to use a mask when dusting because it can cause respiration problems if inhaled.

Do these things bite humans?

Do these things bite humans? I have some sort of bug in my garden 1-2 mm in size which looks similar to this, I find them in groups on my jeans when I've been gardening and although I can catch them (they're not too fast) they do jump as well. They're driving me insane and making me itch.

We have not heard of flea

We have not heard of flea beetles biting humans. They are not the same as fleas, which can bite humans. If you have a dog outdoors, or some other mammal frequenting your yard (wild or domestic), it is possible that these are fleas. The size is about right. Flea bites can make you itch, and leave a red bump on your skin. Fleas can jump very high. It is possible, though, that the pests in your garden are another insect. If you can catch one, you might show it to a vet (if you think it is a flea) or a pest control specialist.

I have a site about fleas

I have a site about fleas that arose from my experience in trying to buy flea medication for my dogs. One thing led to another and voila...I have a website.

So, I was doing a google search to get some story ideas for future articles and came across this site about flea beetles...which I had never heard of. Interestingly enough, I am learning that a lot of critters that aren't fleas have flea in their name. Kind of funny.

One example is the sand flea. I plan on adding sections about the sand flea and the flea beetle to my site. Thank you for providing such a wonderful and concise source of information about these guys.

Flea Bites 101

Neem oil will get rid of them

Neem oil will get rid of them and it's organic approved. I spray once a week in spring or they ruin my arugula and bok choy.



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