Nine important things about the damage caused by flea beetles and their control
- Flea beetles are called as flea beetles because they jump like fleas. Flea beetles are metallic black, blue, bronze or brown in color and about 1/16-1/8th inch long.
- Life cycle of flea beetles is very simple containing egg, larval and adult stages. Flea beetles overwinter as adults by hiding under shelters including dry debris of plants (leaves and stems) left over from your garden crops or weeds. Early in the spring when temperature rises to about 50 F, the overwintering beetles become active and start feeding on the leaves of young plants. While feeding, they mate and lay eggs in the soil cracks around the root system of host plants or weeds in your garden or surrounding areas . Eggs hatch within 1-2 weeks and immediately larvae starts feeding on the roots of young host plants (see below) or weed hosts until they become mature. Then mature larvae pupate in the soil for 1-2 weeks; then emerge as adults and the life cycle continues. Generally this insect completes 2-3 generations in a year.
- Flea beetles are known to cause economic damage to many different vegetable crops including beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collards, corn, eggplant, kale, lettuce, melons, mustard, peppers, potatoes, radishes, red Russian kale, rutabaga, spinach, squash, sunflowers, tomatoes, turnips and several species of weeds.
- Adults are the most damaging stage of flea beetles. They generally feed on foliage by chewing small holes through leaves and their heavy infestation gives a sieve-like appearance to the plant leaves thus reducing their marketable value especially leafy vegetables. Also, the heavy infestation of flea beetles can kill young seedlings.
- Flea beetle larvae feed on the plant roots but they do not cause a considerable economic damage to crop.
- As temperature starts declining in the fall, adult flea beetles start looking for a shelter to hide and overwinter. Therefore, the process of management of flea beetles should begin in the fall to target overwintering beetles to reduce their incidence and outbreak in the next spring. The management of flea beetles should include both cultural and biological methods. Although the chemical insecticides could be more effective than other methods in controlling flea beetles, their use in the organic gardens should be avoided due to their detrimental effects on the human/animal health and environmental pollution.
- As a cultural control practice, keep your garden and its surrounding clean in the fall by removing all the plant debris including dry leaves and stems of harvested crops, weeds and other trash that may serve as the possible shelter for overwintering beetles.
- Biological control method includes use of entomopathogenic nematodes (also called as insect-parasitic or beneficial nematodes) to target and kill larval and pupal stages of flea beetles in the spring. Entomopathogenic nematodes can also attack and kill flea beetle adults if they come in contact in the soil. Application of entomopathogenic nematodes such as Steinernema carpocapsae, Heterorhabditis bacteriophora and Heterorhabditis indica in the mid-late spring in your garden can kill both larval and pupal stages of flea beetles and thus reduce the emergence second generation adults, which are the most damaging to your crop.
- For the optimal rates and appropriate methods of application of entomopathogenic nematodes, read our blog at http://blog.bugsforgrowers.com/natural-predators/entomopathogenic-nematodes/beneficial-nematodes/how-to-deploy-your-nematode-army-and-kill-insect-pests/