Flea Beetles
Palestriped flea beetle, Systena blanda Melsheimer; Potato flea beetle, Epitrix cucumeris (Harris); Tobacco flea beetle, Epitrix hirtipennis (Melsheimer), Chrysomelidae, COLEOPTERA


DESCRIPTION

Adult - The potato flea beetle is about 2.5 mm long and brownish-black to black in color. The equally small tobacco flea beetle is yellowish-brown with a dark band across the wings. Varying from 2.5 to 4.6 mm in length, the palestriped flea beetle has a pale yellow, brown, or black body, a reddish head, and one light-colored stripe along each wing cover.

Egg - The tiny elongate egg is white when first deposited.

Larva - The slender cylindrical grub has a whitish body, a brown head, and 3 pairs of tiny legs near its head. Potato and tobacco flea beetle larvae are 4 to 5 mm long when fully grown. The mature larva of the palestriped species is slightly longer than 6 mm.

Pupa - The white pupa roughly resembles the adult in size and shape. As it matures, it darkens gradually.


BIOLOGY

Distribution - The potato flea beetle occurs from Maine into the Carolinas and westward into Nebraska. Although the tobacco flea beetle is fairly generally distributed, it is primarily a problem in the South. The palestriped flea beetle occurs in most areas of this country, its northern limits lying in Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and New York.

Host Plants - Potato and tobacco flea beetles infest solanaceous plants such as tomato, potato, tobacco, pepper, horsenettle, etc. The palestriped flea beetle, however, is a more general feeder. Its hosts include potato, corn, eggplant, tomato, pea, bean, watermelon, pumpkin, sweet potato, peanut, oat, cotton, grape, pear, and strawberry.

Damge - Flea beetles attack the foliage leaving small round holes. Most serious early in the growing season, this injury eventually kills infested leaves. In addition, potato flea beetles may transmit early blight. As a general rule, flea beetles are much less of a problem on potato than on other solanaceous crops.

Life History - Flea beetles overwinter as adults among debris in or near fields of host plants. They resume activity in spring and feed on weedy hosts until crop hosts are available. Eggs, deposited in soil near the bases of host plants, may require a week or more to hatch. Grubs feed on or in roots, tubers, and lower stems for 3 to 4 weeks before pupating. After a pupal period of 7 to 10 days, a new generation of beetles emerges. The palestriped flea beetle completes only one generation each year. Potato and tobacco flea beetles produce three to four annual generations in North Carolina.


CONTROL

Cultural methods are primary sources of defense against flea beetle infestations. First, it is important to keep fields free of weeds. Destruction of plant residues, especially piles of cull potatoes and trash where beetles hibernate, prevents the buildup of high populations. Late planting favors growth of the host plant over establishment of flea beetles. Lastly, covering beds of seedlings with a gauze-like material prevents beetle entry.

A number of insecticides (granular and foliar) are available to control adult flea beetles. On potatoes, an in-furrow insecticide application at planting can prevent flea beetle damage early in the season. For control throughout the season on all vegetable crops, spray plants when adults appear and repeat as needed. For recommended insecticides and rates, consult the current North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual.

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