Flea Beetles

How to Identify and Get Rid of Flea Beetles

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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

Having trouble with flea beetles in your garden? Here are tips on how to identify, control, and get rid of flea beetles so that they stop eating your crops!

What Are Flea Beetles?

Flea beetles are small, shiny-coated beetles with large rear legs, which allow them to jump like fleas when threatened (the source of their name!).

There are many species of flea beetles. Some species attack a wide range of plants, while others target only certain plant families. In the garden, a number of vegetable crops are susceptible to these pests, particularly those in the Brassica family, like broccoli, cabbage, kale, radishes, and turnips, as well as Nightshades such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

Identification

How to Identify Flea Beetles

Given that there are so many species of flea beetles, they vary in appearance quite a bit. Colors range from black to tan, with other, brighter colors mixed in, and the beetles may have a solid, striped, or spotted pattern depending on the species.

To identify flea beetles, it’s easier to look for signs of their damage (described below) than for the beetles themselves. At only 1/16 of an inch in length, flea beetles are very tiny and will quickly spring away—like fleas—if they see you approach!

When Do Flea Beetles Appear?

Adult flea beetles overwinter in brush and wooded areas. Adults pose the biggest threat early in the planting season as they are emerging, typically when outdoor temperatures reach 50ºF (10°C). At this time, seedlings are being planted, too, and they are most susceptible to beetle damage.

Eggs are laid at the base of plant stems in early summer after the spring feeding period, and larvae feed at the roots.

Flea Beetle Damage

Adult beetles feed on foliage, producing “shotholes” in the leaves. Look out for these holes 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 already large enough to survive with a few holes. The real danger is that the beetles can spread bacterial diseases, such as wilt and blight, from plant to plant. Therefore, they are still important to consider a pest.

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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.

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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.

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Reader Comments

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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

The Editors's picture

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.

Joe
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.

Nothing is working for me an

Nothing is working for me an I've lost my whole potato crop this year. Issues like this are scary for organic gardeners. The're spreading to my hundreds of tomatoes and I may loose everything this year!!!It'll be a poor winter! Isn't there anything I can do that will really work? My plants are covered!

Kerry, We feel for you. Here

The Editors's picture

Kerry, We feel for you. Here is a helpful guide for organic control of the flea beetle for potato crops. As you'll see, the key to organic control is to start very early with sanitation of overwintering sites: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/em/em8947-e.pdf

Your homemade recipe for the

Your homemade recipe for the bug killer spray is a bit off... I don't understand the 2 parts, 5 parts and then you have a tablespoon of soap... please give the PART RATIO of the soap... I'm sure if I had my part as one gallon that a tablespoon of soap would not be enough... or would it? Please put a recipe that is all "parts" or all exact measurements! Thank you!

We are sorry to disappoint

The Editors's picture

We are sorry to disappoint you, Karla, but we checked cooperative extensions and other reputable garden associations and found the exact same recipe. As the recipe is written, you would be filling a spray bottle so most likely not making several gallons at once.
We wish you luck in defeating the flea beetles!

So just to be clear, the

So just to be clear, the following 2 combinations are examples of what would be correct based on the ratios provided:

Combination #1
2 ounces rubbing alcohol
5 ounces of water
1 tablespoon liquid soap

Combination #2
2 gallons of rubbing alcohol
5 gallons of water
1 tablespoon liquid soap

If 1 tablespoon of liquid soap is equitable for both of these, how and why is it effective? If you say it is for filling a spray bottle, is that a 32 oz bottle? Details such as that can make a large difference.

a 'quart' is a unit of liquid

a 'quart' is a unit of liquid capacity equal to a quarter of a gallon or two pints, equivalent in the US to approximately 0.94 liter and in Britain to approximately 1.13 liters.

No one said a "quart" in

No one said a "quart" in anything posted and showing. They claimed a "PART" which is NOT a quart. They DID NOT mean a part of a gallon. Because a gallon was not stated. It was a never clarified what the correct measure was when using a unspecified "parts" formula with exacting measures thrown in. You can not have the same ratio of "parts" without all or none of the exact measure.

Fill a container about 1/4

Fill a container about 1/4 or 1/3 of the way full with rubbing alchohol;
Fill the rest of the way with water;
Squirt some dishsoap in the container.
I don't think exact measurements are really needed.
Good luck

Garyguy, I think you are so

Garyguy, I think you are so right! thanks!!

I made the flea bettle spray

I made the flea bettle spray following recipe and it burned the leaves of my bok choy plants..

Pretty sure these are the

Pretty sure these are the little guys making a feast of one of my California Wonder bell pepper plants. I found this information on more natural ways of getting rid of them. Has anyone had any experience with any of these methods/found one that works best?

http://voices.yahoo.com/natura...

This definitely looks like

This definitely looks like the little pests making meals out of my lovely hibiscus. But I live right behind a preserved wet-land, so I know the fight with these twerps is gonna be a long standing one. Do you have any suggestions on how often I should be treating my hibiscus with the recommended homemade spray and any other natural deterrents I can use to help prevent infestation and subsequently disease or bacterial? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

You can buy parasitic

The Editors's picture

You can buy parasitic nematodes that will attack flea beetles. Ask your supplier (local, mail-order, etc.) what species will attack flea beetles specifically. You might also try placing yellow sticky traps near plants (although this will catch both bad and good bugs). Put down a thick layer of mulch around plants to discourage beetles from laying eggs near them. Keep up with weeding; remove debris/weeds at the end of the growing season. When spraying an alcohol-based spray, test it on a leaf or two and wait a few days—alcohol can injure leaves. Do not apply the spray in hot sun or wet weather. If it looks like the plant will handle the spray, then spray it once. If it rains after several days (which may wash off the spray), you can reapply when the plant is dry again, if needed.

yea yea yea they introduced

yea yea yea they introduced these monsters to combat russian knapweed--last thing they will eat just like goats and sheep

That is the little monster,

That is the little monster, that is hanging out in my garden.
Thanks for the great info.

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