Do Flea Beetles Bite? Uncovering the Truth Behind These Pests

Flea beetles are tiny, jumping insects that can cause damage to plants by feeding on their leaves. These beetles vary in color, ranging from black to metallic gray, and some species even have stripes. With their large hind legs, they are capable of jumping from plant to plant, and their small size, about 1/16 to 1/8 inch long, makes them a challenge to spot and manage in the garden. Flea beetles tend to be a common concern for those with vegetable gardens and flower beds.

While these beetles can be a nuisance, many people wonder if flea beetles bite humans. Their survival largely depends on their ability to feed on plants, and they are not known to bite humans or animals. Flea beetles should not be confused with fleas, an entirely different type of insect that does bite animals and humans to survive. Fleas are notorious for causing itchy, irritating bites and transmitting diseases such as flea-borne typhus and cat scratch disease.

Do Flea Beetles Bite?

Flea beetles are small insects, typically measuring 1/16 to 1/8 inch in length1. They are known for their enlarged hind legs, which allow them to jump considerable distances2. These beetles are commonly found in gardens and agricultural fields, where they feed on plants and leaf surfaces3.

In general, flea beetles are not known to bite humans or animals. Their primary diet consists of plant matter, and they can cause extensive damage to plants by chewing holes in their leaves4. While they may be a nuisance to gardeners and farmers, they are not directly harmful to people or pets.

In terms of harm to plants, flea beetles can cause significant damage. They create small, round holes in leaves5, and their feeding habits can stunt the growth of plants and reduce crop yields6. For this reason, many gardeners and farmers seek ways of managing flea beetle populations to protect their plants.

To sum up, flea beetles are mainly a concern for their impact on plants and are not known for biting or causing harm to humans or animals.

Flea Beetles:

  • Size: 1/16 to 1/8 inch long1
  • Enlarged hind legs for jumping2
  • Feed on plants3
  • Do not bite humans or animals

Identification and Appearance

Western Black Flea Beetle

The Western Black Flea Beetle is a small insect with a length of about 1/16 to 1/8 inch. They have a shiny black or dark brown color and are known for their enlarged femoral hind legs, which they use for jumping when disturbed.

Striped Flea Beetle

Striped Flea Beetles can be distinguished by their yellow or white stripes on their backs. They are also small, measuring about 1/10 inch in length.

  • Common colors: Black with yellow or white stripes
  • Length: 1/10 inch

Crucifer Flea Beetle

Crucifer Flea Beetles belong to the same genera as the other flea beetles. These tiny pests feed on plants from the Brassicaceae family. They can be identified by their solid dark color and lack of stripes or spots.

Spinach Flea Beetle

Spinach Flea Beetles are larger than other flea beetles. They are approximately 1/4-inch long and can vary in color from black, bronze, bluish, or brown to metallic gray.

Comparison Table of Flea Beetles:

Flea Beetle Color Length
Western Black Shiny black or dark brown 1/16-1/8 inch
Striped Black with yellow or white stripes 1/10 inch
Crucifer Solid dark color (no stripes or spots) Similar to other flea beetles
Spinach Black, bronze, bluish, brown, or metallic gray 1/4 inch

Life Cycle and Feeding Habits

Larval Stage

The life cycle of a flea beetle begins with eggs laid by the adult beetles, typically on roots or plant leaves. Upon hatching, the larvae start feeding on the roots of plants, causing damage to the host plant. Some examples of their feeding habits include:

  • Larvae of horseradish flea beetle: Mine stem and leaf veins (source).

During their time in the soil, the larvae continue to grow, eventually pupating and emerging as adults.

New Leaves

Adult flea beetles are drawn to new leaves on plants, where they can cause significant damage. They pierce the plant tissue and create characteristic hole patterns known as “shotholes” (source). Some key features of adult flea beetle feeding habits include the following:

  • Feeding on thick waxy leaves: Adult flea beetles can cause pitting on plants like broccoli (source).
  • High mobility: Flea beetles can easily move from plant to plant, making their management more challenging (source).

Given their feeding habits and impact on plant health, it’s crucial to understand flea beetles’ biology and life cycle to implement effective strategies and optimal timing to reduce their negative effects.

Causes of Infestation

Flea beetles are attracted to certain plants where they can cause damage to seedlings and foliage, especially during planting season. They are known to overwinter in wooded areas and other debris-rich environments, making them difficult to control.

Some examples of plants that attract flea beetles include:

  • Radishes
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach

A flea beetle infestation can weaken young seedlings, and in some cases, cause them to wilt or die. Established plants can also suffer damage but are usually more resistant.

There are different methods to control flea beetle infestations:

  • Row covers: Placing lightweight covers over seedlings during planting season can protect them from flea beetles.
  • Neem oil: Applying neem oil can be an effective organic pesticide to control flea beetle populations.
Method Pros Cons
Row covers Protects seedlings; Non-chemical Can restrict plant growth
Neem oil Organic; Easy to apply May need frequent application

However, no method is perfect, and there may be pros and cons to both row covers and neem oil treatments. For example:

  • Row covers can restrict plant growth if not removed after the critical stage of vulnerability.
  • Neem oil may need to be applied frequently to maintain its effectiveness.

Considering outdoor temperatures when planting can also help reduce the risk of flea beetle infestations, as these pests are more active in warm weather.

In summary, flea beetles are attracted to plants like radishes, lettuce, and spinach, causing damage to seedlings and foliage. Different control methods such as row covers and neem oil can be employed with varying pros and cons. Monitoring outdoor temperatures and planting accordingly can also help manage flea beetle infestations.

Targeted Plants and Crops

Flea beetles are common pests that target various plants and crops. They come in different types, such as the potato flea beetle, crucifer flea beetle, and striped flea beetle. These beetles primarily feed on vegetable crops and ornamental plants1.

Some plants and crops affected by flea beetles include:

  • Eggplant
  • Tomatoes
  • Catnip
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Peppers
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Turnips

Flea beetles affect both vegetable crops and ornamental plants by feeding on plant stems and leafy greens2. Damage can vary depending on the type of flea beetle and the specific plant targeted.

Here’s a comparison of various types of flea beetles and some of their targeted plants:

Type of Flea Beetle Targeted Plants
Potato flea beetle potatoes, tomatoes, peppers
Crucifer flea beetle (phyllotreta cruciferae) broccoli, cabbage, turnips, leafy greens
Striped flea beetle eggplants, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach

Preventing and controlling flea beetle damage can be crucial for maintaining healthy vegetable crops and ornamental plants3. It is essential to understand each beetle type’s unique characteristics and the plants they prefer to target for effective management.

Signs of Beetle Damage

Flea beetles are known to cause damage on various plants, especially in the spring. They can pose a threat to delicate seedlings and new leaves, as well as contribute to the spread of bacterial diseases.

Damage on New Leaves:

Flea beetles feed on new leaves, leaving behind characteristic round holes known as “shotholes.” This damage can range from mild to severe, with the potential to stunt plant growth.

Wilt and Blight:

Plants attacked by flea beetles may experience wilt or blight. As flea beetles feed, they can transmit bacterial diseases like wilt and blight from one plant to another.

Examples of affected plants:

  • Potato plants: flea beetles dig shallow tunnels on potato tubers
  • Brassica plants: flea beetles cause damage on various brassica species including cabbage and broccoli
  • Vegetable crops: flea beetles can affect various types, such as tomatoes and peppers

Features of flea beetle damage:

  • Roundish holes on leaves (shotholes)
  • Shallow tunnels on potato tubers
  • Wilt or blight on affected plants

Pros and Cons of flea beetle control methods:

Chemical treatments:

  • Pros: Effective in reducing flea beetle populations and damage
  • Cons: Negative environmental impact; potential harm to beneficial insects

Biological control:

  • Pros: Natural and targeted way to reduce beetle populations
  • Cons: May take longer to see results; can be dependent on environmental factors

Comparison of Flea Beetle Damage vs. Other Insect Damage

Damage Flea Beetle Other Insects
Hole Shape Roundish (shotholes) Varies
Location New leaves Various plant parts
Disease Spread Wilt, blight Varies

Prevention and Treatment

Using Beneficial Insects

One effective method to prevent and treat flea beetle infestations is using beneficial insects such as braconid wasps, tachinid flies, and microctonus vittatae. These insects are natural predators of flea beetles and help reduce their population.

  • Pros:

    • Eco-friendly
    • No harmful chemicals
  • Cons:

    • Depend on insect predator populations
    • May not work as fast as chemicals

Physical Barriers

Another tactic is to use physical barriers like floating row covers and sticky traps.

  • Row Covers:

    • Protect plants from flea beetles throughout their lifecycle
    • Easy to use and remove
  • Sticky Traps:

    • Attract and capture flea beetles
    • Can be placed near infested plants

Chemical Control

Lastly, chemical control methods such as applying neem oil can be used to get rid of flea beetles. Neem oil is an organic pesticide that’s effective against flea beetles while having a low impact on beneficial insects.

  • Pros:

    • Highly effective
    • Organic and low-toxicity
  • Cons:

    • May require repeated applications
    • Can harm some beneficial insects if not used carefully
Method Pros Cons
Beneficial Insects – Eco-friendly
– No harmful chemicals
– Depend on insect predator populations
– May not work as fast as chemicals
Physical Barriers – Protect plants from flea beetles
– Easy to use and remove( for row covers)
– May require regular maintenance and monitoring
– Limited effectiveness with heavy infestations
Chemical Control – Highly effective
– Organic and low-toxicity (for neem oil)
– May require repeated applications
– Can harm some beneficial insects if not used carefully

Unusual Flea Beetle Species

Systena Blanda

The Systena blanda is a small, black flea beetle that often feeds on established plants like catnip. Some of their notable features include:

  • Small size, around 1/16 to 1/8 inch long
  • Feeds on various plants, including catnip
  • Can cause significant damage to foliage

To control them, you can use tachinid flies as a natural predator, or sticky traps to capture them.

Epitrix Cucumeris

Epitrix cucumeris flea beetles are known for targeting vegetable plants such as eggplant, potato, and tomato. The main characteristics of the Epitrix cucumeris include:

  • Small size, nearly 1/16 inch long
  • Unique black, metallic color
  • Damages plants by creating small holes in leaves

Emerging plants may struggle to survive against these pests. Effective control methods are insecticides or introducing beneficial insects like tachinid flies.

Disonycha Xanthomelas

The Disonycha xanthomelas, also known as the spinach flea beetle, is a larger flea beetle species with a size of 1/4-inch long. They present some interesting features:

  • Larger in size compared to other flea beetles
  • Distinctive shiny greenish-black color
  • Damages spinach leaves specifically

One way to manage this flea beetle is by using sticky traps, or you can opt for chemical control if needed.

Species Size Colors Common Host Plants Control Methods
Systena Blanda 1/16 – 1/8 in Black Catnip Tachinid flies, sticky traps
Epitrix Cucumeris ~ 1/16 in Black, metallic Eggplant, potato, tomato Insecticides, tachinid flies
Disonycha Xanthomelas 1/4 in Greenish-black Spinach Sticky traps, chemical control

Footnotes

  1. https://extension.umn.edu/yard-and-garden-insects/flea-beetles 2 3

  2. https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/ORN/BEETLES/flea-beetle.html 2 3

  3. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/research/flea-beetles-vegetables 2 3

  4. https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publications/E-74/E-74.html

  5. https://extension.usu.edu/vegetableguide/brassica/flea-beetles

  6. https://extension.umn.edu/yard-and-garden-insects/flea-beetles

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Flea Beetle from Brazil

 

Subject: Pink Beetle
Location: Juiz de Fora-MG – BRAZIL
January 24, 2016 8:24 am
Good afternoom Mr. Bugman! Recently I found this lovely pink beetle in the woods of the municipality of Simão Pereira-MG (Brazil) . I’ve never seen equal with this color! Do you who is the beetle? Thanks so much.
Signature: Marcelo Brito de Avellar

Flea Beetle
Flea Beetle

Dear Marcelo,
We are certain this is a Leaf Beetle in the family Chrysomelidae, and we are relatively certain it is a Flea Beetle in the subfamily Alticini.  This is verified on Nature Closeups where a very similar looking Flea Beetle from Brazil is pictured, but not identified to the species level.  Nature and More has a similar image identified as
Homophoita sp.

Letter 2 – Flea Beetle and Recipe for Farfalla con Funghi Porcini

 

Jumping Beetle
Location: Hurricane, Utah
December 22, 2010 12:01 pm
I noticed this beetle on my kitchen table, and leaned closer to get a better look. It surprised me by hopping away, just like a flea-so I hunted it down hoping that wasn’t what it was. I found it, and it was not a flea, but a pretty coppery pink beetle. It is 2 mm long. I suspect it was brought in from the river near my house in Southern Utah. (I put it in a jar to get better looks in daylight but by morning it had died.)
Signature: Pam

Flea Beetle

Hi Pam,
This is a Flea Beetle, a member of a subfamily of Leaf Beetles, Chrysomelidae.  The fact that you have both a dorsal and quasilateral view aids in that identification because of the enlarged rear femurs are plainly evident.  We are currently in the kitchen trying to perfect a recipe for
Farfala con Fungi Porcini after consulting with renowned chef and photographer Luca Loffredo, otherwise we would take the time to try to identify your Flea Beetle to the species level based on its physical appearance and range information available online on BugGuide.  We did take the time to create a Flea Beetles subsubcategory because of your query.
P.S.  We will post the recipe for
Farfala con Fungi Porcini if it turns out well.

Flea Beetle

Update: We wonder if perhaps it might be a member of the genus Chaetocnema, based on images posted to BugGuide.

Recipe: Farfalla con Funghi Porcini

Update:  Promised recipe for Farfalla con Funghi Porcini.

Thank you for your quick reply, I’d never heard of flea beetles and had fun looking through the other posts. I am experimenting with fudge recipes myself, the Farfala looks tasty, we might give it a try!
Thanks again, and have a good holiday!
Pam

Letter 3 – Flea Beetle

 

Subject: small bug on rudbeckia
Location: Decatur, GA
June 11, 2013 8:04 pm
I find these bugs only on my Rudbeckia plants, eating but not doing a lot of damage in crevices. If I touch one it drops to the ground. They can fly also.
Signature: Bill in GA

Flea Beetle
Flea Beetle

Dear Bill,
This is some species of Flea Beetle in the tribe Altacini.  Flea Beetles are Leaf Beetles that feed on leaves and flowers, chewing holes as they feed.  They can get very numerous.

Letter 4 – Flea Beetle

 

Subject: Safe or not?
Location: North east USA, Pennsylvania
July 8, 2016 2:48 pm
I occasionally find these in my kitchen they kind of jump and I believe they have wings like ladybugs but I haven’t seen them fly just jump…
Signature: Concerned Mama

Northern Plantain Flea Beetle
Northern Plantain Flea Beetle

Dear Concerned Mama,
Thank you for including a pack of Newport cigarettes for scale, and in our opinion, that pack poses a far greater health threat to all involved than this Flea Beetle does.  We believe we have correctly identified it on BugGuide as the Northern Plantain Flea Beetle,
Dibolia borealis, and based on the size relationship to the pack of cigarettes, the stated 3mm size seems about correct.  According to BugGuide, they feed on:  “Plantago spp. (Plantaginaceae)” and “Larvae are leaf miners of plantains. ”  According to The Herbal Encyclopedia:  “The plant is indigenous to the Mediterranean region and western Asia; but it now grows worldwide … .  To many areas, it is considered a weed.  The herb is an annual that grows to about sixteen inches in height, producing narrow leaves and clusters of tiny whitish-brown flowers.”  Plantain grows in many fields and open areas in the eastern part of North America.  Perhaps you have some plantain near your kitchen which is causing the Flea Beetles to accidentally enter your home.   

Letter 5 – Flea Beetle

 

Subject:  Pretty beetle found on fishing pier
Geographic location of the bug:  Florida
Date: 02/18/2020
Time: 11:01 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I found this handsome gentleman hiding in-between two slabs of concrete on a marine fishing pier. He’s very pretty! What does he eat? I’m not entirely sure why’d he prefer being close to the ocean- it just doesn’t look like he belongs!
How you want your letter signed:  Chance Arceneaux

Flea Beetle:  Disonycha pensylvanica

Dear Chance,
We believe we have identified this Leaf Beetle as
Disonycha pensylvanica thanks to this BugGuide image.  According to BugGuide:  “For the most part found near aquatic habitats” and “Normal hosts are Polygonum spp. including smartweed.”

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

4 thoughts on “Do Flea Beetles Bite? Uncovering the Truth Behind These Pests”

Leave a Comment