Flea Beetle Control: Wipe Out These Pests

Ed Wike
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Flea Beetle Overview

Flea beetles are in the order Coleoptera (the same class as beetles). Adult flea beetles are about 1/8-inch long, with blackish-brown bodies and long legs. They can jump long distances and move about very quickly, which makes them difficult to control.

Flea beetles eat the same food as your plants. Most importantly, they will eat the tender growth at the base of the plant, or the young seedlings.

This is called “stunt” or “skein” feeding. The plants cannot grow to their normal height because they do not have enough leaf material. They are stunted and appear withered, although they are not dead.

The seeds will not germinate because the seedlings cannot “breathe”.

Adult flea beetles “hitch hike” on other insects and fly looking for new plants to feed on. They are attracted to areas where they can find large numbers of plants in a small area. This makes it very difficult to control them in a large garden.

In a small vegetable garden, it is possible to control them by hand picking and using a barrier of a foul substance.

Types of Flea Beetles

Flea beetles are small, black insects, which are barely visible without a hand lens.

They are approximately the size of a small ant, but when flying they have a distinctive zig-zag flight pattern.

There are a number of different species of flea beetle, but the most common one that infests vegetable and flower gardens is the Colorado potato beetle.

Life Cycle Of Flea Beetles

Flea beetles are insects that are most commonly seen in gardens during the spring and early summer. They are most damaging to seeds, newly transplanted seedlings, shoots, and fruits.

They feed on the youngest parts of a plant in order to prevent further growth.

Flea beetles do not bite people and are small enough to go unaffected by many types of outdoor pesticides.

There are several different types of flea beetle control methods that can be used to stop these destructive little critters.

One is to attract predators such as birds and lizards. These pests often only survive in an area where there are no natural predators. You can help to stabilize the population of these predators by setting out feeders and birdbaths. By attracting more predators to your area, there will be fewer pests to bother your plants.

Poultry is another effective form of flea beetle control. Chickens will seek out these insects and eat them up. They are also great with eating up weedy plants and unwanted debris, so you might want to think about getting a few chickens if you have the space for them.

Insecticides can also be used to stop flea beetles in your garden. These can be applied either in sprays, in soil around the base of plants, or by a granular form to prevent these pests from damaging your plants.

Common Habitats For Flea Beetles

Flea beetles are a tiny pests about 3 mm long, that have a capsule-shaped body, a clubbed antenna, and long legs. They jump using broad hind legs that have hard coverings. The adults feed on the foliage of a variety of plants, including onion, garlic, melons, and beans. They are fairly mobile, and they can travel up to 200 yards in three weeks.

These destructive little pests are also carriers of the stomach parasite "phytophototoxin". This dangerous chemical will harm not only the plants they infest, but if eaten by people, it can cause stomach and intestinal ulcerations, bloody stools, nausea, vomiting, as well as diarrhea.

They can either be allowed access to the garden by being carried in on contaminated plants or seedlings, or they can come in on their own. During spring and summer, a wide range of crops are vulnerable to flea beetles. In the fall, they are just as active on warm-season crops like soybeans, corn, and cotton.

Try to prevent a flea beetle outbreak by inspecting plants before you plant. Remove any egg masses by running a fine-toothed comb over the undersides of leaves.

What Do Flea Beetles Eat?

Flea beetles go by many different names (such as rice flea beetle, scarlet flea beetle, striped flea beetle, etc.) but they are all in the general family of flea or leaf beetles. Most adult flea beetles are small (1/8” to 1/4” or 3.3 to 6.3 millimeters) and dark colored (blue, green, or black). They have a well-developed prothorax which is located between the head and wing bases. This prothorax serves as a shield of sorts, protecting their thorax and wings. It’s the same reason some beetles have very shiny prothorax.

Adult flea beetles typically lay small eggs, which are usually deposited on either the stems or blades of grasses. These eggs usually hatch quickly, with the larvae looking for their first meal. The larvae are either dark colored (like the adults) or light green or white. They are all rather flattened with a prominent prothorax. Like their parents, larvae are pests to grasses, vegetables, and even nearby trees. Many sources classify them as a turfgrass insect.

How To Get Rid Of Flea Beetles

Flea beetles are especially bad when they attack large numbers of a specific vegetable. They consume the leaves, which essentially deprives the plant of photosynthesis. Without photosynthesis, the plant cannot make food to support itself. The leaves will wither and eventually die if left unattended. The flea beetle will also leave big holes in the leaves, which will kill the plant if the larvae bore into the plant itself.

Even worse than the death of your produce is the fact that the flea beetle can transmit disease from plant to plant. One plant looks healthy, but is sickly inside, and that disease will be passed on. The flea beetle can also be known to transmit virus and fungus from plant to plant as well.

Luckily, there are some ways that you can repel or kill off the flea beetles, which will protect your vegetables and your yields.

The first thing you can do is cover your crops at night. The problem is many pests like the flea beetle have adapted to avoid this. The flea beetle does not fly, so during the day, your crops are safe, but your plants may be eaten alive at night by these pesky pests.

The best thing to do is build a hoop house around your plants. The new, strong PVC hoops that can be bought at a retail store are lightweight and easy to work with. You can cover your garden, or even just a few plants, with the PVC hoops.

Organic Flea Beetle Control

Flea beetles, which do not bite people or pets, are small black insect pests that are prevalent in this region.

They are one of the first insects that attack your veggie garden each year. They eat a wide variety of leaves and can ruin your entire crop if they go unchecked.

These pests are easy to check up on, though. Simply grab a white bowl, add a drop of dish soap to the bottom, and fill the bowl with water. Set a trap and you will see the sunny-colored flea beetles jump right in and start to drown. Wipe them out before they get the upper hand.

To get a jump on the season, set out your traps now and treat the bed with beneficial nematodes. This will be an additional layer of protection and the spread of this beneficial nematode can be a benefit all summer!

Flea beetles are difficult to control using chemicals, because they are small, fast moving, and sensitive to most insecticides. You can use insecticidal soap to limit their damage. They feed on plants in the mustard family, including cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.

Environmental Flea Beetle Control

Flea beetle larvae live in the soil beneath grass blades. Preventing flea beetle damage begins with keeping their food source at bay. This means growing turfgrass that shuns flea beetles. Flea beetles like smooth-leaf fescue, bermudagrass, timothy, orchardgrass, and bluegrass best. Thatch-tolerant plants with broad leaves, such as zoysia and ryegrass, are less preferred.

You can create a flea beetle hostile environment by planting and maintaining these coarser-textured grasses where flea beetles will be less likely to thrive.

If your yard isn’t flea beetle free, there are safe and effective organic options for ridding your landscape of these pests.

First, consider a soil drench of an insecticidal soap containing fatty acids. These natural, surfactant properties will cling to the leaves and stems of plants, repelling flea beetles and other sucking insects, such as aphids.

A subsequent cover spray of neem oil and pyrethrum powder will keep any flea beetles that aren’t deterred from feeding on your plants away.

These natural pest controls are more effective than heavy applications of pesticide, plus they won’t pollute your soil or water supply.

Preventing Flea Beetles

There are several preventive products that you can use in order to prevent flea beetles from causing problems on your porch, patio, or deck.

Many of these products are in a convenient trigger spray bottle, making them especially convenient for this type of application. Most of these can be purchased at your local hardware or garden center.

Because of environmental concerns, most of the chemical treatments used for this problem contain pyrethrins or diatomaceous earth (dte). While there are other home remedies you can use, most of them are not as effective in preventing an attack as the advantage of using a pyrethrin-based pesticide.

Pyrethrins are a natural toxin that comes from a chrysanthemum plant. This product stimulates the flea's nervous system, causing it to stop functioning, usually within 24 hours of use. Pyrethrins don't cause long-term harm to the flea.

Because it comes from a natural source, it's usually considered a safe product to use around pets and children. However, to ensure that complete protection is provided, it is best to avoid inhaling the chemical.

FAQs

Flea beetles are a common sight in your garden. These tiny (1 to 3 mm) brown or black beetles hop or fly and can travel as far as 20 feet in search of new plants to eat.

They have small, narrow bodies with small, shiny green or brown heads that are often held up or raised when they hop.

They feed on the leaves or buds of plants, opening tiny holes that resemble the bites of fleas. This is why they are often called flea beetles.