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The Flea Beetle: An Enemy to Many of Your Vegetables

Dorothy is a master gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape and nature photographer.

Flea beetles attacking a crop.

Flea beetles attacking a crop.

Flea Beetles Are Common Garden Pests

The United States has more than its fair 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.

What Do Flea Beetles Look Like?

Flea beetles are shiny, black beetles about a tenth of an inch long, with large back legs that they use for jumping. Some species have yellow or white markings.

Their name comes from the likelihood that they will jump like fleas when disturbed. They are very active insects 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).

How to Identify Flea Beetle Damage

Flea beetles feed most often on hot, sunny days, attacking many different plants: corn, cabbage, eggplant, lettuce, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers, to name a few. 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.

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








Lima Beans

Snap Beans



Brussel Sprouts






How to Control and Get Rid of Flea Beetles

  • Garden maintenance: 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.)
  • Sticky traps: Within your garden site (about every 10–15 feet), place some yellow sticky traps, which will capture the adults.
  • Talcum powder: You can repel these pests by lightly dusting your plants with plain talcum powder.
  • Floating row covers: 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."
  • Diatomaceous earth: 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.
  • Catnip and basil: 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: 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.
  • Insecticide: Use insecticides only as a last resort.

Life Cycle of a Flea Beetle

  • 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.

More About Pest Control in the Garden

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


Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on July 27, 2020:

Thank you so much!

Lee A Barton from New Mexico on July 26, 2020:

I'm just building a house now and haven't started a garden yet. However, I've seen these beetles on my property. Good to know how to deal with them before I start a garden. Pinned your article.

Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on April 23, 2020:

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

Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on April 23, 2020:

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

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 22, 2020:

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.

KonaGirl from New York on April 21, 2020:

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.