- Controlling Flea Beetles In The Vegetable Garden: How To Get Rid Of Flea Beetles
- How to Get Rid of Flea Beetles
- Controlling Flea Beetles
- Repelling Flea Beetles
- How to Kill Flea Beetles Naturally
- Flea beetles
- How to protect your plants from flea beetles
- Flea Beetle – Vegetables
- Tiny holes in vegetable leaves. Shiny, black beetles that jump.
- Life Cycle/Habits
- Host Plants
- Tiny, black, jumping bugs
- Bugs That Look (And Hop) like Fleas
- Control Flea Beetles Organically
- Identification, Biology, and Distribution
- Flea Beetle Types
- Life Cycle
- Damage Caused
- Organic Control Methods
- Chemical Pesticide Control Options (If Desperation Strikes)
- Put on Your Scout Cap!
- Flea Beetle Overview
- How To Get Rid Of Flea Beetles
- Tomato-Flea beetle
Controlling Flea Beetles In The Vegetable Garden: How To Get Rid Of Flea Beetles
Flea beetles are small but destructive pests in the home landscape. You have likely seen their damage in the tiny holes scattered across your prized hosta or ornamental kale. There are many varieties of the insect, which attack a wide range of vegetation. Flea beetle control is an ongoing battle that relies upon three levels of approach. Control of flea beetles naturally starts with consistent cultural practices, physical barriers and even biological methods.
How to Get Rid of Flea Beetles
Knowledge of your enemy is the first key to flea beetle control. The insects are small beetle-type pests that hop when disturbed. The larvae overwinter in the garden and become adults in spring. There may be up to two generations of the tiny shiny beetles per year. Some varieties are striped or spotted and may be brown, tan and black.
It is easier to prevent the damage rather than to kill flea beetles unless you resort to chemical controls. Control of flea beetles
naturally is preferable, especially in the vegetable garden where the insects do the most damage.
Controlling Flea Beetles
Physical barriers such as row covers are safe and easy methods of controlling flea beetles. These prevent the insects from jumping onto the leaves and munching away on the foliage. You can also use a layer of thick mulch around plants to limit the insect’s transformation in the soil from larvae to adult. This provides a non-toxic pre-season way to control flea beetles naturally. For more permanent control, it is necessary to kill flea beetles.
The most reliable method on how to get rid of flea beetles is with an insecticidal dust. Naturally derived spinosad and permethrin are two control agents that can provide some assistance in eradicating the beetles. Consistent applications are necessary because of the mobility of the pests. Any insecticidal product that contains carabyl or bifenthrin will also give adequate control when applied at the rates and times recommended by the product manufacturer.
Repelling Flea Beetles
If chemical control is not your cup of tea and covering the crop is not an option, try repellent formulations. Flea beetles are most active in spring when adults emerge and their feeding can severely damage seedling plants. Diatomaceous earth is safe for pets, children and most beneficial insects, but will repel most flea beetles. Neem oil and some horticultural oils are also effective at repelling flea beetles.
How to Kill Flea Beetles Naturally
Cultural control is the key to killing flea beetles. The larvae overwinter in soil and can be destroyed during regular hoeing and cultivating. Remove all old debris from previous crops and prevent weeds, which are an important early season food for flea beetle larvae. Without cover and food supplies, the larva will starve. Early season flea beetle control will kill most of the pests and physical barriers, or even sticky traps, can take care of most of the remaining pests.
How to protect your plants from flea beetles
Flea beetles are most damaging in spring. It is important to monitor for their activity as soon as seedlings have emerged.
- Place yellow sticky traps in your garden to see if you have flea beetles.
- Check your plants for flea beetles and their damage.
- Prevent severe damage to your plants by treating seedlings when there are more than five flea beetles per plant.
- Protect your crops if 10-30% leaves on seedlings and transplants have dropped off.
It is generally not necessary to treat flea beetles during summer, especially at the end of the season. By summer, crops reach the 4- or 5-leaf stage and are strong enough to survive feeding damage. The number of adult flea beetles also goes down at that time.
Cole crops (cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower) and other plants with edible greens can be damaged later in the summer. Monitor and treat them as needed.
Make gardens unwelcoming to pests
Control weeds in and around planting sites to limit food sources for flea beetles.
- Remove old crop debris so that beetles will not be able to get protection in the winter.
- Plant crops as late as possible. Plants grow faster in warmer temperatures and are more stable to resist damage from flea beetles.
Keep flea beetles out of the vegetable crop
- Use row covers or other screening to keep beetles out, when the seedlings are growing.
- Remove row covers before the flowers come up so pollinating insects can reach the plants.
- Plant a highly-favored crop, such as radish, as a trap crop, before you plant your main crop.
- Adult flea beetles will be attracted to the tallest, earliest crops available.
- Once beetles are actively feeding on the trap crop, spray with a labeled pesticide.
Natural enemies can control flea beetles
Microctonus vittatae is a native braconid wasp (found more commonly in the eastern half of the U.S). This wasp kills the adult flea beetle. The larvae of this wasp develop on the female flea beetle and prevent the beetle from reproducing.
There are many pesticides labeled for treating flea beetles. Below are names of active ingredients that are commonly available in pesticides sold in stores that sell garden pesticides:
- lambda cyhalothrin
CAUTION: Mention of a pesticide or use of a pesticide label is for educational purposes only. Always follow the pesticide label directions attached to the pesticide container you are using. Remember, the label is the law.
Be sure that the vegetable you wish to treat is listed on the label of the pesticide you intend to use. Also be sure to observe the number of days between pesticide application and when you can harvest your crop.
Flea Beetle – Vegetables
Back to Vegetable Crops
Tiny holes in vegetable leaves. Shiny, black beetles that jump.
Flea beetle – Family Chrysomelidae, Subfamily – Alticinae
- There are many species of flea beetles, which are a distinctive subfamily of leaf beetles.
- Eggs: Minute, white, laid in the soil.
- Larvae: Tiny white grubs.
- Adults: Shiny black or brown, some with white or yellow stripes, 1/10″ oval-shaped beetles that jump when disturbed.
- Pale-striped flea beetle is twice the size of others.
Flea beetle adult on leaf
- Adults overwinter in plant debris.
- One of the earliest emerging insects, the adults emerge in late April to early May, mate, and lay eggs in soil.
- The larvae of many species feed below the soil on plant roots, while larvae of other species and all adults chew tiny holes in leaves, creating a shot-hole effect.
- Adults jump away when disturbed, much like fleas.
- Populations are high after mild winters.
- Prefer hot, dry spring weather.
- One or two generations a year.
Damage to corn
- Eggplant, corn, and cabbage family (i.e. cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower) are very susceptible.
- Flea beetles also feed on tomato, potato, pepper, beet, spinach, turnip, radish, plus almost every other vegetable to some degree.
- Adult feeding riddles leaves with small feeding holes that create a shot-hole effect.
- Tender seedlings may be particularly targeted.
- When foliage is disturbed, tiny beetles jump off in all directions.
- Larvae feeding on roots can lower yields. Larval feeding on sweet potato skins and shallow tunneling on tubers can ruin sweet potatoes.
- Adults can transmit viral or bacterial diseases.
Eggplant is frequently damaged by flea beetles
- Watch for the characteristic shot-hole feeding pattern on leaves, particularly on the more susceptible young seedlings.
- This pest will ravage eggplant.
- Tiny black jumping beetles are easily noted.
- Clean up and remove garden debris to reduce overwintering sites for the beetles.
- Try covering vulnerable plants with a floating row cover, being sure to secure the material to the ground. For eggplant, drape the row cover over hoops – don’t let the material lay directly on plants.
- Spray a product like “Surround”, which are repellents made from kaolin clay mixed with water. They create a particle barrier after drying that inhibits flea beetles and greatly reduces feeding. They must be re-applied after rainfall.
- For severe infestations spray your plants with an “organic” insecticide- pyrethrum, neem, or spinosad. You can also dust plants with diatomaceous earth or wood ash.
- Lightly tilling your garden in spring or fall may also help reduce flea beetle populations.
Floating row cover protecting eggplant
Wood ash sprinkled on eggplant leaves
Flea beetles can ravage young eggplant plants, leading to low yields of small fruit. It is critical to protect newly transplanted eggplant from flea beetles. Healthy, fast-growing plants are more likely to outgrow light flea beetle feeding. Some tips for accomplishing this are as follows: cover the soil with black plastic mulch one month prior to planting, set plants out two weeks after all danger of frost, plant in fertile soil high in organic matter, water regularly and fertilize every 3-4 weeks, if necessary. Protect eggplant with floating row cover until plants start to flower.
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Tiny, black, jumping bugs
I have these very tiny (smaller than fleas) black bugs all over my house. I have a pest control service that comes out once every other month and has been here 3 times in the last 30 days and I still have these bugs.
When I first saw them, I noticed that they congregated around my air vents. They are now everywhere; on my walls, ceilings, in the tub and sinks, etc… When I try to kill them they jump away. They are very active at night. During the day I’ll see about 50 total. At night I can see around 250 in one room! Last night while on the computer I must have killed 100 of them—within a few minutes!
My pest control guy (he’s new) suggested they were carpet beetles, I know they are not. Also, I don’t have any pets and my house is extremely clean (I have a one year old running around so I’m always vaccuuming, cleaning, etc..).
I have 4 bags of topsoil in my garage and just noticed these same exact bugs are crawling around atop the bags.
I have a bug phobia so I’m a little freaked out. They don’t seem to be too interested in myself or my family but they are really annoying. In the evenings there are so many running around it looks as if someone has emptied a jar of pepper all over the place!
Does anyone know what they are, where they came from and how can I get rid of them?
BTW–My pest control guy was here 2 weeks ago and he sprayed. They are now 10 times worse than they were! I’m waiting on him to come back today.
Bugs That Look (And Hop) like Fleas
Pet-owners are often plagued by fleas: tiny, bloodsucking hitchhikers that are most commonly found living in the coats of cats and dogs.
These hopping, biting insects are prolific breeders and can lay up to 50 eggs per day in the fur of your beloved pet, meaning infestations can soon take hold! So, if your pet is carrying large numbers of these passengers, it won’t be long before you start seeing them around your home.
However, these tiny, wingless insects are so small that they can easily be mistaken for other, similar-looking critters.
Some of the most common bugs that look like and are therefore often mistaken for fleas are springtails, bed bugs as well as flea beetles.
Which is why in this article, you will learn more about these three insects that look like fleas (but aren’t!), so you can establish once and for all what type of invader you’re dealing with.
What are fleas, and how can you identify them?
Fleas are small, light to dark brown insects that usually measure between 2 and 8 mm in length.
These wingless, flat-bodied bugs are most easily recognized by their impressive leap, as adult insects can launch themselves up to 30 cm into their air. This phenomenal skill allows them to spread quickly and means they can easily be transferred from pets to humans.
Fleas are known for leaving small, itchy bites on the skin of their hosts which, besides driving the afflicted creature crazy, can also transmit diseases. These minuscule insects have a fearsome reputation for their role in the spread of diseases, most notably the Black Death of the 14th century. This gruesome plague was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, wiping out around half the total population of Europe at the time, and was spread through the bites of infected fleas.
Nowadays, the plague isn’t such a pressing concern. However, studies have found that the majority of fleas still carry pathogens that can cause illness in both animals and humans. Getting rid of these insects as soon as you see them should, therefore, be a top priority for any pet-owner!
Unfortunately, flea identification isn’t as easy as you may think. There are several flea lookalikes that are often mistaken for this jumping, biting bug – but how can you tell them apart? So, which insects are most commonly mistaken for fleas?
What are springtails?
Springtails are small, jumping insects that get their name from their ability to leap long distances. They are typically no more than a few millimeters long, and most are brown, gray or black in color.
These tiny jumping bugs are most commonly found in areas of high moisture such as soil, where they feed on mold and fungus. They are often mistaken for fleas due to their hopping behavior. However, there are some differences between the two that should help you tell them apart.
How are springtails similar to fleas?
Springtails and fleas are both tiny. Like fleas, springtails are very small and usually only measure a few mm in length. This can make them harder to identify, as it can be difficult to get a close look at them!
Springtails and fleas are both brown. Springtails come in a range of muddy colors, and it’s not uncommon for them to appear brown. This and their small size can easily lead to their being mistaken for fleas.
Springtails hop like fleas. The most distinctive trait of the flea is its superhero hopping power. However, they aren’t the only bug able to launch themselves over incredible distances, and the springtail is so named because it, too, can leap a long way.
Springtails and fleas are both wingless.
How are springtails different from fleas?
Springtails don’t bite. Unlike fleas, springtails feed on decaying organic matter and fungus. Therefore, they don’t bite or sting and are, in fact, completely harmless to both humans and animals.
Springtails and fleas have different body shapes. If you manage to capture one of your jumping invaders, try to look at it under a microscope for identification clues. Whereas fleas have a flattened body, springtails have a more rounded, soft body. They are also easier to squish than fleas, which famously resist crushing.
What are flea beetles?
Flea beetles are yet another example of small jumping insects that are not fleas. These bugs may hop like fleas, but flea beetles are found on plants, not pets. These herbivorous insects are most commonly found chomping holes in the stems and leaves of garden plants, rather than hanging out in your dog’s coat. However, they are similar in appearance to fleas and are often mistaken for the bloodsuckers – so, here’s how to tell them apart!
How are flea beetles similar to fleas?
They are a similar size and color. Flea beetles are tiny, just like fleas. They come in a range of colors from blank to metallic gray, though a good number of them are bronze or brown – just like fleas!
Flea beetles and fleas all jump. Flea beetles are most often mistaken for fleas because of their jumping abilities. Just like fleas, these tiny beetles can catapult themselves a long way; especially when disturbed!
How are flea beetles different from fleas?
Fleas and flea beetles have different habitats. While fleas are most commonly found in the fur of cats and dogs, flea beetles are usually found on plants. If you found your ‘fleas’ in the garden, chances are they’re actually flea beetles!
Flea beetles don’t bite. Unlike fleas, flea beetles live off plant material. This means they don’t bite animals or humans, making them easy to tell apart from their bloodthirsty counterparts.
What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are often found infesting bedrooms. Their small, flattened brownish bodies are similar in appearance to those of fleas and, like fleas, their bites are maddeningly itchy. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to tell the two apart!
How are bed bugs similar to fleas?
Bed bugs and fleas are both small and brown. At first glance, bed bugs and fleas have a very similar appearance. Both are small (just a few mm long) and brown in color.
Bed bugs and fleas both have flattened bodies. The flea’s flattened body may help you tell them apart from springtails but, as bed bugs also sport this body shape, it won’t be of much help
Bed bugs and fleas both bite. Like fleas, bed bugs feed exclusively on blood and both are well known (and hated for) leaving itchy bites on your skin.
Bed bugs and fleas are both wingless.
How are bed bugs different to fleas?
Bed bugs don’t jump. Unlike fleas, bed bugs can’t hop or jump. This is one of the most reliable ways to tell these insects apart – if it can’t leap, it’s not a flea!
Tell them apart by their eggs. Whereas the eggs of bed bugs are black in color, those of fleas are pearly white.
Their bites look different. Another way to determine if your invading insects are bed bugs or fleas is to examine their bites. Flea bites will appear in a cluster, and resemble mosquito bites, whereas the bites of bed bugs will look like a raised, flat red welt.
Finding fleas in your home or on your pets can be a nightmare. These tiny, hopping insects are bloodthirsty pests that can leave you with insanely itchy bites, and can even put your health at risk. However, not every jumping bug is a flea! There are several insect species that look (and hop!) like fleas, so learning to tell them apart is very important for effective control.
Control Flea Beetles Organically
The adults are tiny ranging from 1/16 to 1/4 inch long and are various colors, including black, greenish or bluish black, green or yellow. They have enlarged hind legs which enable them to jump like fleas. The larvae are slender, white grubs which feed on roots, tubers, and lower stems underground.
Flea beetles overwinter as adults among debris in or near fields or host plants. At the end of the year remove plants and surface debris to remove hibernating material.
Eggs are deposited in soil near the bases of host plants and may require a week or more to hatch. Treating the soil with beneficial nematodes can help control the larvae.
Plant later than usual so warmer temperatures can help plants to outgrow the feeding beetles.
Use rotation planting. Don’t plant the same crop in the same bed the next year.
Dusting plants with Diatomaceous earth, ashes, ground limestone, or even flour has been used successfully.
Homemade sticky traps work well. Flea beetles are attracted to the colors of white and yellow. For white traps cut milk jugs sides, other white plastic containers, or styrofoam meat trays into pieces about four to six inches square. Coat the pieces with something sticky. Petroleum jelly, lard, grease and non-setting glue have all been found useful. Wash off the captured beetles and reuse.
For a yellow trap take flypaper and attach it to something solid like a lightweight board that can be set upright or heavy cardboard attached to a wooden stake.
Some people have found beer traps successful.
For plants that don’t need insect pollination, cover beds of seedlings with row covers or gauze-like material to prevent beetle entry.
Flea beetles like hot, dry soil. Misting or fine watering to keep the top soil moist helps as do mulches.
Plant beets, carrots, chard, radishes, spinach and other cool-loving crops a couple of weeks later. These also make effective trap crops to protect other plants.
Natural repellents consist of nicotinia, catnip, and wormwood. Make a tea and spray the affected crop. Another natural repellent is a garlic and hot pepper spray. Flea beetles hate this combination and will quickly leave. Reapply after watering or rain.
If all else fails, insecticides make from plants like Rotenone can be applied.
For more information on organic flea beetle and insect control:
Flea beetles are tiny, hopping, flea-like beetles of the genus Phyllotreta. To deal with flea beetles, it’s best to understand their life cycle. Adults emerge from the soil in spring and feed, laying eggs on plants’ roots. They die off by early July, but the eggs hatch in one week, with larvae feeding for two to three weeks. At this point, they fall off the plants, back into the soil to pupate, emerging as new adults in another two to three weeks. We might see as many as four or more generations per year. They thrive in full sun, particularly in drought conditions. That’s when they really come on in infestations. There are a couple of strategies for dealing with them… Delay planting to avoid the first peak population.
Cover seedlings with lightweight floating row cover until the adults die off. Provide shade for the crops that seem most susceptible to them. Apply a garlic spray to repel them from susceptible plants. (Simply run some garlic in water in the blender, let it sit overnight, strain it, and spray it). You can try to apply parasitic nematodes, but you have to get the timing right, as they only go after the larva. So as soon as you see the adult population collapse, apply nematodes. And keep the soil around the plants well watered, which will help kill off some of the larvae. Finally, try spreading petroleum jelly on pieces of cardboard and place these around your plants. These will trap any adults that land on them.
The flea beetle (family Chrysomelidae) is a pesky visitor to most gardens. The beetle targets tasty plants in the families Solanaceae (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers) and Brassicaceae ( including cole crops: broccoli, kale, cabbage, collards).
Its capacity to overwinter in soil and plant debris makes it challenging to manage, and very sneaky. The flea beetle inflicts both above and below-ground injuries to its target.
Above-ground injury is characterized by “shot-holing” in the leaves of the host. Sound unsightly? Well, it is.
Shot-holing is a collection of small pits and holes that the insect chews out of the host’s leaves. Young and recently transplanted plants are particularly susceptible. For the fastidious gardener, this little beetle can cause a lot of frustration!
Cabbage stem flea beetle (Psylliodes chrysocephala).
Just in case the above-ground damage wasn’t scary enough, I’ll continue. Below ground, the larvae feed on the roots and tubers of host plants.
Notable is the damage suffered by potatoes from this insect, resulting in grooves marking the surface or small holes in the skin and outer flesh.
Last spring, my husband I planted the most perfect potato patch. We patiently waited while the precious spuds grew. We noticed some small holes dotting the foliage of the plant’ leaves, but nothing too alarming (we thought…).
Dig day arrived, and to our great annoyance, our spuds appeared to have been poked by a ballpoint pen, with dark holes spotting the otherwise beautiful tubers.
Though imperfect produce is often just as delicious as a potato or tomato with a pristine skin, plucked from a plant with unnibbled leaves, do you really want to share those crops with the neighbors?I didn’t think so. So it’s time to get rid of those bugs!
Organic management methods may be employed to combat these pests through cultural, physical, and organic-approved sprays and drenches.
Identification, Biology, and Distribution
The flea beetle is approximately 1/16-1/4 inch long, depending on the type. Its segmented back legs are long, giving it the ability to jump. And it is also adept at flying. There are numerous species, and their colors vary widely depending on the region where they are found.
The beetles come in some very fancy colors including black, greenish-black, brown, metallic, white-striped, or yellow and orange striped. Don’t be fooled. Develop a keen eye for spotting these pests, so you don’t have to suffer the devastation of their less-than-creative artwork on your plants’ leaves and tubers.
See the table below to identify some common cruciferous feeders (cole crops like cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts) versus solanaceous feeders (nightshade family including tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant).
These insects identify their feast (read: host plant) based on smell and visual indicators – much like we do!
Flea Beetle Types
|Cruciferous (Cole Crops) Feeders||Solanaceous (Nightshade) Feeders|
| Crucifer Flea Beetle
|Black with black legs|| Potato Flea Beetle
|Black with brown legs|
| Striped Flea Beetle
|Shiny black with greenish tint and an orange stripe on both wings|| Eggplant Glea Beetle
|Black with black legs and ridged back|
| Western Black Flea Beetle
|Shiny black to dark olive green|
Adult beetles overwinter in the soil, leaf debris, or grassy borders of the garden or field. At just about the same time when we begin to emerge from our homes in springtime, so do they. As temperature warm, they get busy.
Adults find a healthy host and begin chowing down after a long winter’s nap. Following a hearty meal, the beetles lay their eggs at the base of the host plant.
These eggs will hatch in approximately 10 days, hatching out into small whitish larvae measuring between 1/8 and 1/4 inch long, with dark heads and tiny legs behind. They are less cute than they sound.
Freshly hatched larvae feed on the roots of plants for the next three to four weeks.
Turnip Flea Beetle (Phyllotreta nemorum).
Following this period, they pupate for approximately 7-10 days before surfacing to indulge above ground. In warmer regions, multiple generations may occur each year. And that’s likely to cause a problem in your vegetable patch, unless you take action.
With some careful planning, preventative measures, and an action plan in place, you won’t have to worry about the safety of your precious broccoli and eggplants.
Don’t wait until it’s too late!
The flea beetle may cause significant damage to the roots and foliage of your plants. Scouting twice a day for these pests is a good practice in an organic program.
I like to set an alarm on my phone to remind me to check the garden twice during the day. I grab a little gardening journal that I keep by the back door and trot to the garden for a quick scouting session. I take notes and pictures of what I see, so I will have a record.
This really doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes to accomplish, depending on the size of your garden.
Watch for holes that have been chewed into the leaves by adult flea beetles in the pattern of buckshot, or a messy lace pattern.
Potato flea beetle on a leaf showing feeding damage.
To scout for larval damage, check the roots of a few plants or the tubers of potato plants to look for the whitish larvae munching away, or furrowing grooves in your tubers.
If you’re like me and can’t stand the thought of sacrificing a few plants, you can dig down next to the plant, gingerly move the dirt to the side to take a look, and replace the dirt afterwards.
Be vigilant. If you do have an infestation, take action immediately to avoid further damage, and to remediate this threat to the health of your plants.
Organic Control Methods
Planting earlier than adult flea beetles become active in springtime can give your plants a head start on the season. And who doesn’t like a good head start?
Plant well hardened-off transplants as soon as the threat of frost has passed in your region.
Another record-keeping tip: If you aren’t keeping a gardening journal already, start one. Record when you plant your first transplants, and when you spot your first beetle.
You have no idea how much this will aid your planting schedule design and pest management routine in years to come (or maybe you already do have some idea, and you just need an extra push to put pen to paper – you’re welcome!).
You may also consider planting your brassica crops later in the summer, when the adults are getting sleepy from all of their summertime feasting and going dormant.
Being diligent about keeping your garden clean and free of too much debris may help to keep pest pressure at bay.
I use the same (okay, maybe a little looser) rules in my garden as I do in my bathroom:
A little cleanup each day keeps the unwanted guests from taking up house. Do your best to keep tall weeds and old piles of leaves out of the garden where these insect pests may overwinter.
Till the Soil
This is a cultural method implemented by many, especially in the spring and fall.
This method is a little gruesome for my taste, but if it’s unwanted pests or my potatoes and broccoli, the choice is a little easier to make.
Tilling in the spring kills the majority of overwintered beetles, while tilling later in the season destroys larvae and cleans up the garden before fall, interrupting the adults’ overwintering patterns.
Though tilling may help with immediate management, its long-term benefits may not be as effective as other cultural management methods – especially if you subscribe to no-till methods and believe in promoting a healthy microbial ecosystem and applying helpful soil microbes. I am personally of this camp. You can read more about the benefits of a no-till garden here.
A trap crop acts as a decoy for the main crop. Plant your trap crop before your main crop so that the insects are attracted to your trap crop first. Sacrificial, but usually effective!
If you spot flea beetles in your trap crop, consider spraying or dusting (depending on your chosen method of management)to control the population and keep them from migrating towards the main crop as the trap crop becomes less desirable.
Collard greens work well as a trap crop against species that attack cole crops.
Some recommend tilling under the trap crop once it becomes infested, but this could create a dangerous situation wherein the main crop becomes the primary target.
Some good trap crops include radishes, giant Chinese mustard, collards, and bok choy. The idea is to provide a tempting treat for the insects so they will focus on the trap crop instead of the main crop.
Plant your trap crop around the perimeter or in between rows of your main crop for best results.
Both living and non-living mulches help deter these pests from your garden. Using a living mulch interplanted between rows of your main crop (the insects’ target) confuses flea beetles, thus limiting their ability to identify their target.
Hairy vetch (vicia villosa) makes an excellent and attractive green mulch.
Legumes like clover and vetch act as fantastic living mulch between rows, or under-sown. However, do note that living mulches will compete with the main crop for water and nutrients.
Non-living mulches can interfere with the adult flea beetle’s egg-laying. A few options for non-living mulches that I prefer are barley straw and leaf litter.
Keep in mind that it is important to clear these mulches out at the end of the season to prevent providing a perfect overwintering space for adult beetles.
Intercropping companion plants helps deter flea beetles from the host plant. Because flea beetles identify their target by smell and visual cues, employing ways to inhibit their capacity to distinguish the host will help protect your main crop.
Marigolds have long been used as companion plants to ward off flea beetles and other pests.
Some plants to consider intercropping include dill, bunching onions, or marigolds.
This is a valuable cultural control. Diatomaceous earth (DE) will make your garden look like it survived a flour bomb explosion, but it is a powerful organic weapon to have on hand when you’re going to war with beetles, and various other insect pests.
Sprinkle it on your main crop and around the base of the plants. DE is a powder that is spiny on a microscopic level, and it has a desiccating effect on small insects.
Diatomaceous earth can help defeat pests, but care needs to be taken when using. Although harmless to pets and humans, the powder is actually tiny, sharp shards of material that can dry out the bodies of insects – including beneficials. And you’ll need to reapply it after every rain or watering.
According to Extension.org, it should be applied frequently (2-3 times per week) to be used effectively on flea beetles.
Read our complete guide to using DE for more info.
Transplant Large Seedlings
Transplanting seedlings that are mature and large is another excellent way to combat flea beetles. Older transplants may resist pest pressure and recover more quickly if they suffer damage.
Transplanting puny starts (read: baby plants) essentially sends an open invitation to the the transplant’s predators: “Pick me! I’m weak and ripe for the eating!”
A transplant goes through a lot of stress when it is transitioning from its first home, the starter flat that you carefully planted in your guest room or brought home from the garden center, to its permanent spot in the garden. The healthier it is, the greater chance it has of successfully surviving the big move.
Floating Row Covers
Floating row covers provide a physical barrier between the beetles and the main crop.
Floating row covers may be a good idea to keep away flea beetles and other pests. But be careful, since they can also prevent pollinators from visiting open blooms.
Note that row covers need to be installed before adults are observed, to ensure that they don’t get trapped under the row cover with the main crop.
Also, remember to uncover your plants once they start to flower, so pollinators are able to do their work to ensure that you have a harvest of veggies!
Read more about floating row covers here.
These traps may be used to trap insect pests, but their real value comes in helping to scout and identify the insects living in your garden.
Some traps are designed to actually combat pest pressure by attracting and catching specific insects, to keep them from eating your plants. But usually – and specifically for flea beetles – they are used as a tool for you to more easily get to know who the unwanted visitors are to your garden.
Traps act like low-tech security cameras!
Parasites and Predators
There are a variety of generalist predators and parasitic wasps that can help in the effort to manage a flea beetle population. We cover some of the more common beneficial ones here.
But these predators need hosts, too.
Plants like dill (shown) make excellent habitat for beneficial predatory insects.
Interplant attractive plants like clover, anise, dill, marigolds, and chamomile to attract these generalists and parasitic wasps.
Entomopathogenic nematodes are small soil-dwelling worms that can effectively kill the larval flea beetle. Nematodes in the families Steinernematidae and Heterorhabditidae are particularly noted for their capacity to manage populations, while Steinernema carpocapsae are known to manage flea beetle populations in potatoes.
Predatory nematodes like these may be purchased and applied by drench or spray method to control flea beetle larvae. However, this is not an instant cure and will only work for subsequent generations.
Triple Threat Nematode Bundle via ARBICO Organics
One application often works for multiple years, and helps to protect a wild plethora of fruits and veggies against a host of insect pests. We’d suggest getting a combination nematode bundle like this one from ARBICO Organics that is effective against flea beetle as well as other garden pests. You can purchase this kit in various sizes for coverage ranging from 1,600 sq. ft. up to 10 acres.
Read our complete guide to using beneficial nematodes here.
Beauvaria bassiana is a fungal pathogen whose spores can kill flea beetle larvae. This little fungus poses a serious threat to its host.
The spores attach to the surface of the beetle, germinate, then infiltrate inside of the larvae and liquify its insides as a source of food for the fungus. Yum!
BotaniGard Beauvaria Bassiana Biological Insecticide via ARBICO Organics
This fungal spray may be purchased and sprayed on the garden, but be sure to apply spray in the evening since direct sunlight may kill the spores.
Organic Insecticidal Control
Organic insecticidal sprays, powders, or drenches may be purchased to help combat flea beetles in your garden such as:
- insecticidal soaps
- neem oil (registered for food crops)
- diatomaceous earth
Chemical Pesticide Control Options (If Desperation Strikes)
Chemical pesticides are a last resort option. But if you absolutely need them, here are a few that will aid you in your fight against flea beetles:
- lambda cyhalothrin
Check out our article on safe spray practices for advice. We encourage you to rely on chemical pesticides as a last resort, for the protection of our health and that of the environment.
Put on Your Scout Cap!
Who would have guessed that these tiny little beetles could cause such a fuss? They sleep in your garden all winter, only to emerge and wreak havoc on your potatoes and broccoli (and their relatives!), shot-holing and furrowing their way through all your hard work.
Well, there’s bad news for the flea beetles everywhere, now that you’ve learned their plan of attack.
Put on your scout cap, and get to work identifying and tackling these pests, utilizing the cultural, biological, and (only if absolutely necessary!) chemical tools that we’ve covered in this article.
What about you? How have you been able to defeat flea beetles? Let us know in the comments below or feel free to ask questions about prevention and control!
Other Works Cited:
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via BotaniGard and Bug Sales. Uncredited photos: .
About Alexis Morin
Alexis Morin is an avid gardener who resides on and manages a horse ranch in north Texas. She holds a BA in English literature with a minor in horticultural sciences from Clemson University, and she loves to read, write, and garden. If Alexis is not in a pasture learning the names of all the growing green things, you can find her in her garden growing fruit, veggies, and flowers. Alexis once managed a sizable CSA operation in Valley Center, Kansas, and her specialization is in growing high quality organic vegetables. She believes that soil, like food, brings people together!
A flea beetle is not a flea. Let’s get that out of the way right at the beginning! In fact, fleas and flea beetles have almost nothing in common, although they’re often confused with fleas by those less familiar with them. This is not the pest that bites your dogs and cats (and sometimes you).
But if it’s not a flea, what exactly is a flea beetle? How can you identify this surprisingly-common United States pest, and where are you likely to find it? Can you catch them before they jump away? Most importantly, how do you kill them before they can devour your prized vegetable plants?
Today, I’m going to teach you all about this agricultural pest, tell you how to wipe them out, and hopefully answer any and all questions you might have about flea beetles. There’s a huge amount of data to cover, so let’s dive in!
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- Monterey Garden Insect Spray
- Safer Brand Home & Garden Spray
- Beneficial Nematodes
- Yellow Sticky Traps
Other Good Options
- Azatrol EC
- Neem Oil
- Diatomaceous Earth
- Surround WP
- Harvest-Guard Floating Row Covers
Flea Beetle Overview
|Common Name(s)||Flea beetle, Crucifer flea beetle, Horseradish flea beetle, Striped flea beetle, Western black flea beetle, Eggplant flea beetle, Potato flea beetle, Tobacco flea beetle, Tuber flea beetle, Western potato flea beetle, Palestriped flea beetle, and other related common names|
|Scientific Name(s)||Phyllotreta cruciferae, Phyllotreta armoraciae, Phyllotreta striolata, Phyllotreta pusilla, Epitrix fuscula, Epitrix cucumeris, Epitrix hirtipennis, Epitrix tuberis, Epitrix subcrinita, Systena blanda, and other related species|
|Origin||North America, various regions|
|Plants Affected||Broccoli, horseradish, cabbage, radish, kale, turnip, collards, cress, other cruciferous plants, eggplant, potato, tomato, pepper, other members of the Solanaceae family, cotton, grape, pea, peanut, corn, oat, strawberry, pumpkin, and pears.|
|Common Remedies||Spinosad and pyrethrin sprays, beneficial parasitic insects, yellow sticky traps, floating row covers, diatomaceous earth, kaolin clay, neem oil, azadirachtin sprays.|
Types of Flea Beetles
There is a very wide diversity of beetles that are considered to be flea beetles. In scientific taxonomy, these beetles are all part of the tribe Alticini, which is part of the subfamily Galerucinae of the beetle family Chrysomelidae. While I’m going to touch on some of the Alticini tribe of flea beetles, I’m going to focus primarily on those which impact agricultural crops, especially food crops.
Before I start, I did want to mention that there are a few species of flea beetles which are considered beneficial, as they tend to consume weeds rather than food crops. However, their beneficial use is incredibly limited. With that, let’s get into some of the pest varieties!
Phyllotreta cruciferae, ‘Crucifer flea beetle’
Like both cabbage worms and cabbage loopers, the Crucifer flea beetle tends to be attracted to cruciferous plants of the family Brassicaceae. This small black beetle is local to the northern United States.
Phyllotreta armoraciae, ‘Horseradish flea beetle’
Source: Ricosz Wildlife Gallery
This black beetle has a wide and straight light brown stripe on either side of its body. As its name would imply, it prefers horseradish, although it does consume other plants. It is localized in the northern United States, generally east of the Rocky Mountains.
Phyllotreta striolata, ‘Striped flea beetle’
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Like the Crucifer flea beetle, the striped flea beetle prefers Brassicaceae plants. This shiny beetle is black with crescent-shaped off-white stripes along its sides. It lives in both the eastern and Pacific regions of the United States.
Phyllotreta pusilla, ‘Western black flea beetle’
These small beetles are a shiny black color, and tend to live in the western United States. They prefer Brassicaceae plants.
Epitrix fuscula, ‘Eggplant flea beetle’
Source: Darlene Montesano
This textured black beetle is strange in appearance, as it looks hairy. Most commonly reported in the eastern United States, it is a solanaceous feeder, preferring eggplants.
Epitrix cucumeris, ‘Potato flea beetle’
The potato flea beetle is a very tiny beetle, shiny black in coloration. It prefers Solanaceae plants such as potatoes and tomatoes, and is generally found east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States.
Epitrix hirtipennis, ‘Tobacco flea beetle’
Tobacco flea beetles are brown with a large, darker spot on either side of their bodies. These are also solanaceous feeders, and have a wide ranged diet. They are common in warmer regions in the United States.
Epitrix tuberis, ‘Tuber flea beetle’
A major problem in the Pacific Northwest, the tuber flea beetle tends to prefer Solanaceae plants, but is drawn mostly to the tuberous roots. They are a dingy, almost matte black color.
Epitrix subcrinita, ‘Western potato flea beetle’
This brown flea beetle is common throughout the western United States. It, like other epitrix species beetles, prefers the Solanaceae plants as its food.
Systena blanda, ‘Palestriped flea beetle’
Primarily a pest in warmer parts of the United States, the palestriped flea beetle has an incredibly wide diversity of host plants. This makes it one of the most dangerous flea beetles, especially in agricultural areas such as California where it’s very common. Visually it looks quite similar to the horseradish flea beetle, a black beetle with off-white crescent-shaped stripes along its sides.
Life Cycle Of Flea Beetles
In the winter, flea beetles overwinter in their adult form. They often hide under leaves or dirt clods, or in protected areas. Once warmer weather comes in the spring, they begin to emerge over the space of a couple weeks.
The adults will feed on plants for several weeks before the females begin to lay eggs. Their eggs are typically laid in cracks in the soil around the base of their food plants. Once the larvae hatch, they typically feed on the slender root hairs or on plant matter in the soil. With the exception of the tuber flea beetle larvae, which are a risk factor to root crops, most of the larvae are not particularly harmful to plants.
After several more weeks, the larvae will pupate under the soil’s surface. Once the pupal stage has concluded, they emerge from the soil as adult flea beetles and begin the flea beetle life cycle again. Most types of flea beetles will produce at least two generations in a year, and in warmer climates, three or more generations are possible.
Common Habitats For Flea Beetles
While flea beetles live near their host plants of preference, they also require some form of shelter from birds and other predators. Generally, this protection comes in the form of something that they can hide beneath. In gardens, this can be leaf litter or beneath dirt clods and rocks.
Flea beetles are widespread across the United States, although the species varies depending on the location.
It can be easy to identify an area where flea beetles are widespread, as they are often known to cause extensive damage to the leaves of their favorite plants. The damage can look like mottled yellowing and browning over most of the surface of the leaf. In more drastic situations, entire leaves can be skeletonized, leaving only leaf veins intact.
Source: Jon. D. Anderson
What Do Flea Beetles Eat?
While I touched briefly on this while describing the beetles themselves, flea beetles generally fall into one of two categories: cruciferous, or solanaceous.
The cruciferous varieties tend to be part of the Phyllotreta species. These beetles vary in their diets by the specific species, but tend towards broccoli, horseradish, cabbage, radish, kale, turnip, collards, and cress. At least one (the Western black flea beetle) is also known to consume beet, lettuce, and potato.
The solanaceous varieties are generally Epitrix species beetles. These tend to eat eggplant, potato, tomato, pepper, and other members of the Solanaceae family.
The palestriped flea beetle has an incredibly wide diet. This Systena species beetle will consume most Solanaceae family plants (tomato, potato, eggplant, pepper, etc), along with cotton, grape, pea, peanut, corn, oat, strawberry, pumpkin, and pears. This makes them particularly dangerous amongst agricultural pests.
How To Get Rid Of Flea Beetles
While there are a diverse number of species considered flea beetles, thankfully all of them are vulnerable to the same control methods. Let’s look at the different measures you can take to get rid of these plant devourers.
Organic Flea Beetle Control
Spinosad sprays such as Monterey Garden Insect Spray are effective against flea beetles. These work to poison the beetles after the spinosad is consumed on the plant matter, so it takes a day or two before the beetles die. A few spaced-out applications of this will eradicate the majority of flea beetles in your garden, leaving only those in pupal form beneath the soil’s surface.
Pyrethrin sprays work even faster to eliminate the flea beetles. A good pure pyrethrin spray that I like to use is PyGanic, which works on contact. If you have issues with other beetle types such as Japanese beetles at the same time as your flea beetle woes, you might consider a pyrethrin spray that combines both the power of pyrethrin and potassium salts of fatty acids, such as Safer Brand Home & Garden Spray. The pyrethrins will kill smaller beetles, but on the thicker-shelled beetles, the potassium salts will help eat into the beetle’s shell and allow the pyrethrins to do their job.
Environmental Flea Beetle Control
One good option to combat the flea beetle is to plant trap crops. In essence, these are sacrificial plants that you don’t mind the beetles being drawn to. However, to plant trap crops effectively, you have to be willing to sacrifice a particularly favored type of crop plant to the beetles. This can be very effective if you have identified the specific type of flea beetles you’re combating and plant a small area of their favorite food to lure them there, especially if you then destroy them while they’re on the plants.
Get polycultural! Interplant your susceptible crops with ones that aren’t as appealing to the flea beetles and slow down the progress from plant to plant. Sometimes you can even manage to improve the growth of your crop – for instance, planting marigolds around the base of tomato plants can offer some protection from pests while also acting as a beneficial companion plant for the tomatoes. Some plants, such as catnip or basil, even repel the beetles naturally on their own.
Don’t forget to cultivate an environment that’s friendly to beneficial parasitic insects. Braconid wasps and tachinid flies are both predators of the flea beetle, and are more than happy to kill them off for you. They’re also quite useful against tomato hornworms. Unfortunately, you can’t purchase braconid wasps or tachinid flies commercially, but you can lure them by planting flowering herbs and plants that they favor such as dill and yarrow, as the adults of these beneficial predators will feed on the nectar from these plants.
Beneficial nematodes can also assist you in eliminating the larvae while they’re pupating in the soil. These microscopic lifeforms feast on insect larvae, wiping them out quite effectively before they can ever reach adulthood.
Placing yellow sticky traps throughout your yard and garden can be another way to eliminate these pests. Once they’ve made contact with the sticky surface, they’re caught and can’t escape, and then you simply dispose of the trap later once it’s no longer sticky.
And, if all else fails, you could always vacuum them up. Flea beetles are notorious for jumping, and they’re quite small, so they’re hard to hand-pick out of the garden… but a handheld vacuum can suck them up before they can leap away. Just be careful not to vacuum the leaves off your plants too!
Preventing Flea Beetles
Floating row covers such as Harvest-Guard are useful for keeping flea beetles off of young seedlings, provided that they haven’t overwintered in the soil beneath the floating row cover. Prior to planting, till or turn the top few inches of soil, which should cause any flea beetles there to be revealed, and get them out of the way. Then plant your seeds or seedling plants and cover. This is especially effective for non-flowering crops such as radishes or cabbage, but they need to be removed eventually on flowering crops like tomatoes to allow for pollination.
A healthy sprinkling of food-grade diatomaceous earth over the soil and the foliage of your plants can help deter flea beetles. While it’s completely harmless to humans and pets, to small insects, it feels like they’re moving across a field of knives. Since they get cut up so easily by the fine powder, they tend to avoid areas where they will move through it. However, it must be reapplied after rain.
Another powdered application that can be used is kaolin clay. Sold as Surround WP, you can carefully coat your young plants in this clay to deter insects from munching on them.
Something else which is often used as a preventative measure is neem oil. A regular application of this to the leaves and stems of most vegetables will deter a whole host of insect pests, among them aphids, asparagus beetles, potato bugs, and of course flea beetles, as well as many others. The neem cakes that result from the pressing of neem seeds to make the oil are also useful to work into the top of your soil, as they can deter flea beetles from overwintering in your garden bed.
An azadirachtin spray offers a distilled form of the azadirachtin oils that make neem oil such an effective repellent. I recommend Azatrol EC, which is very pure and needs to be thoroughly diluted per the directions before use.
Q: Flea beetles attacking whenever the row cover comes off, help!
A: As long as you’re not a commercial grower, you can likely hand-pollinate your plants and leave the floating row cover in place. It takes a bit more time, but use a Q-tip and gently swab the inside of one flower, then move to the next, and so on and so on. That will ensure your plants are pollinated, all while keeping the flea beetles away.
Q: There are flea beetles killing my lawn. What can I do?
A: For something as large as a lawn, you’re likely going to need to use something like a pyrethrin spray to eliminate the flea beetles. There’s just too much space to cover to opt for preventative measures, and powders like diatomaceous earth are going to get knocked off the grass whenever someone walks over it or whenever you water.
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Includes tuber flea beetle (Epitrix tuberis)
Pest description, crop damage and life history
Common Pests of Vegetable Crops
Pest monitoring Monitor fields for flea beetles soon after transplanting or after the seedlings emerge. Treat for flea beetles when small holes show on transplants or on plants from seeded fields. Young plants often withstand flea beetle injury, but they may be killed if the weather is dry and windy. The percentage of plants affected and forecasted weather conditions will indicate the need to treat.
When flea beetles on seedlings are migrating from hosts outside of the field, most of the infestation will be localized within 200 ft of borders. Check the distribution of leaf feeding to see if this is the case, and consider border treatments only. If high populations exist 1 to 2 weeks before harvest and foliage is declining as a food source for the beetles, spot treat according to the distribution of the flea beetle.
Research in California has shown that seedling damage is significantly higher in fields previously planted to tomatoes. If possible, rotate tomatoes with a nonhost crop. In fields not previously planted to tomatoes, flea beetle infestations are usually located at field borders.
“Trap crops” such as radish or daikon may help lure flea beetles away from the main crop, but this has not been tested in the Pacific Northwest. Floating row covers or other screening can be used to exclude the beetles during seedling establishment of high-value crops. Flea beetles can be vacuumed off foliage, but this must be repeated frequently. Reinvasion of plants can be rapid.
Management-chemical control: HOME USE
- azadirachtin (neem oil)-Some formulations are OMRI-listed for organic use.
- Beauvaria bassiana-Some formulations are OMRI-listed for organic use.
- plant essential oils (rosemary, etc.)-Some formulations are OMRI-listed for organic use.
- pyrethrins-Some formulations are OMRI-listed for organic use.
Management-chemical control: COMMERCIAL USE