The Flea Beetle: An Enemy to Many of Your Vegetables

Updated on April 23, 2020
Casey White profile image

Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.

Flea beetles attacking a crop.
Flea beetles attacking a crop.

Flea Beetles Are Widespread in the U.S.

The United States has more than its share of garden pests. If you are planning to plant vegetables in your garden, you need to learn all you can about flea beetles, which are widespread across America. They are shiny, black beetles about a tenth of an inch long, with some species having yellow or white markings. All of them have large back legs that they use for jumping.

Their name comes from the likelihood that they will jump like fleas when disturbed. They are a very active insect that will chew tiny holes in the foliage of your plants while transmitting viral and bacterial diseases (early blight to potatoes and bacterial wilt on corn).

They feed most often on hot, sunny days, attacking many different plants, including corn, cabbage, eggplant, lettuce, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers. Even the larvae of flea beetles will feed on the roots of plants. Also, they live underground and feed on the roots and tubers of young plants, as well as on any seeds you may have germinating.

If you find insects that jump like fleas and leave tiny holes in the leaves of your vegetables, there's a pretty good chance you have a problem with flea beetles. This article will help you learn the ways to control and prevent them from doing further damage, especially since severe damage can often result in wilted or stunted plants.

This photograph shows the damage done by flea beetles on the foliage of plants.
This photograph shows the damage done by flea beetles on the foliage of plants. | Source

Plants Most Vulnerable to Flea Beetle Damage

This is a list of the vegetables and other edible foods that are the most vulnerable and susceptible to damage by flea beetles:

  • All seedlings
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Corn
  • Eggplants
  • Radishes
  • Turnips
  • Spinach
  • Lima Beans
  • Snap Beans
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Chard
  • Muskmelons
  • Peppers

How to Control Flea Beetles

  • Try to minimize their overwintering sites by plowing under weeds and removing all garden trash. (Adults overwinter in the soil or garden trash and begin feeding on host plants as new growth appears in the spring.)
  • Within your garden site (about every 10–15 feet), place some yellow sticky traps, which will capture the adults.
  • You can repel these pests by lightly dusting your plants with plain talcum powder.
  • You can place floating row covers on seedlings and leave them in place long enough for the plant to mature enough to tolerate the damage from these beetles. According to the Old Farmer's Almanac: "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."
  • If you are looking for protection that will last a long time, you can always apply diatomaceous earth (made of tiny fossilized aquatic organisms that, under a microscope, resemble broken glass). The diatomaceous earth kills the insect by scoring its outer layer as it crawls over the powder, although it contains no toxic poisons.
  • Repel flea beetles by planting catnip and basil. Plants that will attract them are nasturtium and radishes. I suggest you consider planting some radishes or nasturtium in an area away from your main garden to lure the beetles away from the plants you are really interested in growing.
  • Kaolin clay for plants will form a protective barrier film that acts as a broad-spectrum crop protectant preventing the damage from these pests. If you have a large garden, you can buy kaolin clay in bulk.
  • Use insecticides only as a last resort.

Life Cycle

  • Flea beetles live throughout the winter as adults in wooded areas, windbreaks, hedgerows, and leaf litter.
  • In early spring, the adult flea beetles become active. The females (depending on the species) lay single white eggs or clusters of eggs in different places, including small holes, roots, vegetable leaves, on flowers, or ornamental shrubs and trees.
  • Small, white larvae will hatch from the eggs in about a week and feed on the roots of newly planted seedlings for about two to three weeks.
  • The larvae then transform into pupae in the ground, remaining in the soil for about a week, when the adults will emerge, completing the cycle.
  • There are usually one to two generations per year.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

Comments

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    • Casey White profile imageAUTHOR

      Mike and Dorothy McKenney 

      2 months ago from United States

      Thank you for your continued support of my writing. I do appreciate you!

    • Casey White profile imageAUTHOR

      Mike and Dorothy McKenney 

      2 months ago from United States

      Thank you so much! I have to admit that before I wrote the article I knew very little about them myself!

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      2 months ago from New Delhi, India

      This is quite an informative article.

      I have a little garden, and I like to learn the do’s and don’ts of gardening. I will keep these precautions in mind.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

      KonaGirl 

      2 months ago from New York

      Ya know I have seen these little critters and didn't know what they were. Thank you so much for the enlightening article! Now I know what to do this spring when I begin seeing the damage they create. Thanks so much. BTW, you selected a really good video on the subject too.

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