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Flea beetles

Quick facts 

  • Flea beetles are common pests found on many vegetable crops including radishes, broccoli, cabbage, turnips, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, spinach and melons.
  • Flea beetles chew irregular holes in the leaves.
  • Severe flea beetle damage can result in wilted or stunted plants.
  • Flea beetles are best managed through a combination of cultural and chemical control methods.

How to identify flea beetles

A small, dull black flea beetle on a leaf.
A black colored potato flea beetle making holes in a potato leaf

Most adult flea beetles are very small (1/16 –1/8 inch long). An exception is the spinach flea beetle, which is 1/4-inch long.

  • Flea beetles can be black, bronze, bluish or brown to metallic gray.
  • Some species have stripes.
  • All flea beetles have large back legs which they use for jumping, especially when disturbed.
A shiny black crucifer flea beetle making holes in a green leaf
A shiny black crucifer flea beetle making holes in a green leaf

The most common flea beetles in Minnesota:

  • Crucifer flea beetle (Phyllotreta cruciferae)
  • Striped flea beetle (P. striolata
  • Western black flea beetle (P. pusilla)
  • Potato flea beetle (Epitrix cucumeris)
  • Spinach flea beetle (Disonycha xanthomelas)

Most flea beetles feed on very specific plants, but the pale-striped flea beetle (Systena blanda) feeds on a variety of plants, like squash, beans, corn, sunflowers, lettuce, potatoes and many weeds.

Biology

  • Flea beetles live through the winter as adults in leaf litter, hedgerows, windbreaks and wooded areas.
  • Adult flea beetles become active in early spring. Depending on the species, females lay single or clusters of eggs in small holes, in roots, soil, or leaves of many vegetables as well as occasionally on flowers and ornamental shrubs and trees.
  • Small white larvae hatch from eggs and feed on the roots of the newly planted seedlings.
  • Larvae then transform into pupae in the ground. There are usually one to two generations per year.

Damage caused by flea beetles

A green colored turnip leaf with many irregular holes
A green turnip leaf with many irregular holes

All types of flea beetles cause similar damage.

Crucifer flea beetle damage on turnips

  • Adult flea beetles cause the most damage by feeding on the leaves and stems.
  • They create shallow pits and small rounded, irregular holes (usually less than 1/8 inch) in the leaves. This type of damage is unique to flea beetles.
  • Plants started from seeds are less tolerant of feeding damage compared to transplants, but both can be severely injured if flea beetle numbers are high.
  • The larvae usually cause little to no damage to the plants (with the exception of potato flea beetle larvae).

Managing flea beetles in home gardens

many flea beetles on a collard greens leaf
Flea beetles on collard greens
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Flea beetle management for farmers

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Authors: Marissa Schuh, IPM Extension educator; Suzanne Wold-Burkness, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences; Bill Hutchison, Extension entomologist; Jeffrey Hahn and Rebecca Hines

Reviewed in 2022

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