Life Cycle of Flea Beetle: A Comprehensive Guide for Curious Minds

Flea beetles are small insects known for their distinctive jumping ability, which is enabled by their large back legs. They come in various colors, including black, bronze, bluish, brown, and metallic gray, and sometimes exhibit stripes on their bodies. These beetles can be quite detrimental to plants, as they feed on the foliage, creating holes in leaves and potentially causing significant crop damage.

The life cycle of flea beetles consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Adult beetles lay their eggs in the soil, typically around the base of host plants. After hatching, the larvae feed on the roots and underground stems of the plants, while the adult beetles focus on the plant’s foliage. The larvae eventually pupate in cocoons before emerging as fully grown adult beetles.

Environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity, heavily influence the duration of a flea beetle’s life cycle. For example, if the conditions are favorable, their life cycle can progress relatively quickly, but under less optimal circumstances, it may take several months or even years to complete. Monitoring and controlling flea beetle populations is essential for maintaining healthy crops and plants, and can be achieved through the use of various pest management techniques such as yellow sticky traps.

Life Cycle of Flea Beetle

Eggs

Flea beetles lay their eggs in the soil near the base of host plants during May. The eggs are typically white to yellowish-gray and have an elliptical shape1.

Larvae

Once the eggs hatch, flea beetle larvae emerge and begin feeding on plant roots and other organic materials underground. They continue growing and feeding in the soil throughout their larval stage.

Pupae

When it’s time to transform into adults, flea beetle larvae will pupate in the soil. They remain stationary during this stage, as they undergo metamorphosis to become mature adult beetles.

Adults

Adult flea beetles are usually small, with a size range of 1/16 to 1/8 inches in length2. They come in various colors like black, bronze, bluish, or brown to metallic gray. Some species display stripes, while all possess large hind legs, which they use for jumping long distances3. They overwinter as adults in the soil or beneath plant debris4, and they become active in early spring when temperatures reach 50°F5.

In summary:

  • Eggs

    • Laid by adult flea beetles in soil during May
    • White to yellowish-gray and elliptical in shape
  • Larvae

    • Feed on plant roots and organic materials
    • Grow and develop in the soil
  • Pupae

    • Located in soil
    • Stationary during metamorphosis
  • Adults

    • Size: 1/16 to 1/8 inches
    • Colors: various, potentially displaying stripes
    • Large hind legs for jumping
    • Overwinter in soil or plant debris

Flea Beetle Identification and Types

Flea beetles belong to the Alticini tribe, which includes various species that differ in appearance, size, and feeding habits. Here is a brief overview of some common types of flea beetles.

Striped Flea Beetle

The Striped Flea Beetle (Phyllotreta striolata) features:

  • 1/16 – 1/8 inch size range
  • Black with yellow stripes across their wings

They target mainly brassica crops like cabbage and kale.

Crucifer Flea Beetle

The Crucifer Flea Beetle (Phyllotreta cruciferae) has:

  • Similar size as Striped Flea Beetle
  • Solid black or metallic blue color

It prefers cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower.

Potato Flea Beetle

Potato Flea Beetles (Epitrix cucumeris) exhibit:

  • 1/16 – 1/8 inch size range
  • Black or bronze body color
  • Dark-colored legs

They feed primarily on potato leaves, causing damage to the crop.

Western Black Flea Beetle

The Western Black Flea Beetle (Systena blanda) stands out with:

  • 1/8 inch size
  • Metallic black or dark green appearance

It mainly affects beans, tomatoes, and other vegetable plants in the western United States.

Other Types

There are many other flea beetle species, such as:

  • Eggplant Flea Beetle
  • Horseradish Flea Beetle
  • Spinach Flea Beetle

These species can vary in size (1/10 – 1/5 inch) and color (black, brown, metallic gray, or with stripes).

Type Size Color Main Target Crops
Striped 1/16 – 1/8 inch Black with yellow stripes Crucifers
Crucifer 1/16 – 1/8 inch Solid black or metallic blue Crucifers
Potato 1/16 – 1/8 inch Black or bronze Potatoes
Western Black 1/8 inch Metallic black or dark green various vegetables

Remember to keep a lookout for flea beetles in your garden and identify the species to implement appropriate control measures.

Feeding Damage and Host Plants

Symptoms of Infestation

Flea beetles cause distinctive feeding damage on leaves of numerous host plants. They chew holes or pits, leaving small round holes with diameters of 1/16 to 1/8 inch (1.5 to 3.2 mm), often described as “shotholes.”

Common Host Plants

Flea beetles infest various plants, primarily from the Brassicaceae and Solanaceae families. Some common host plants include:

  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Broccoli
  • Radishes
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Catnip
  • Potatoes

The beetles also target seedlings, causing damage that can lead to stand losses and the need to reseed fields. They are not limited to crops and can infest ornamental plants as well.

Brassicaceae vs. Solanaceae host plants:

Brassicaceae Solanaceae
Examples Cabbage, broccoli, radishes Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes
Infestation symptoms Shotholes in leaves, pitting Shotholes in leaves, pitting, catnip beetle damage

Pros of Flea Beetles Infesting Brassicaceae plants

  • Little beneficial impact

Cons of Flea Beetles Infesting Brassicaceae plants

  • Extensive damage to leaves
  • Stand losses
  • Seedling damage

Pros of Flea Beetles Infesting Solanaceae plants

  • Little beneficial impact

Cons of Flea Beetles Infesting Solanaceae plants

  • Extensive damage to leaves on multiple plants
  • Catnip beetle infestations
  • Potential need for reseeding

Prevention

Flea Beetles Facts and Biology

Jumping Mechanism

Flea beetles are known for their jumping ability, which is due to their large hind legs. These beetles use their hind legs to propel themselves into the air when disturbed, making them hard to catch.

Overwintering Practices

Flea beetles overwinter as adults in protected areas such as under soil clods, plant debris, and leaf litter. They emerge from their overwintering sites in mid- to late-spring, searching for host plants to lay their eggs in the soil around.

Family and Order

Flea beetles belong to the family Chrysomelidae and the order Coleoptera. Their biology and life cycle are essential factors in determining effective pest management strategies.

Comparison of Flea Beetles and Regular Beetles

Feature Flea Beetles Regular Beetles
Jumping Capable Not Capable
Hind Legs Large, for jumping Regular Size
Overwintering As adults Depends on species
Family Chrysomelidae Various families
Order Coleoptera Coleoptera

Flea beetles exhibit several unique characteristics, such as:

  • Exceptional jumping ability
  • Large hind legs
  • Overwintering as adults
  • Belonging to the family Chrysomelidae

It is important to note that flea beetles can be harmful pests to various plants. Proper understanding of their biology can help in creating more effective management solutions.

Footnotes

  1. Flea Beetles | USU – Utah State University Extension

  2. Flea beetles | UMN Extension

  3. Flea Beetles on Vegetables | USU – Utah State University Extension

  4. Flea Beetles | Wisconsin Vegetable Entomology

  5. flea beetle – Altica spp. – Entomology and Nematology Department

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 – Shiny Flea Beetle

 

Subject: It’s blue – Trevor’s FAVORITE color
Location: Moore, OK
May 14, 2013 3:36 pm
It’s been about a year since our last submission (a Sumac Flea Beetle June 2012)! On Mother’s Day (May 12) my son found another really cool beetle that we would like to know what it is. Despite being a little guy, it stood out like a sore thumb on the beige ceiling of our back covered porch. Hopefully the picture is sufficient, fingers crossed. We had a really tough time getting the lighting just right to show off the truly bright blue metallic color of its carapace (in the pictures it appears dark but in real life it is lighter and bright). However, you can definitely see the distinct details of its orange head, antennae (not orange but ”segmented”), and its legs are the same bright orange as well.
Hope you can satisfy my 5 year old aspiring entomologist son’s curiosity (I’m pretty anxious too because it is such a beautiful little guy!)
Signature: Trevor’s mom

Shiny Flea Beetle
Shiny Flea Beetle

Dear Trevor’s Mom,
We are happy to hear Trevor’s interest in entomology hasn’t waned.  This is another Flea Beetle in the tribe Alticini.  It sure looks to us like the Shiny Flea Beetle,
Asphaera lustrans, a species that is found in Oklahoma according to BugGuide.

Yay!! That’s it!! Trevor is sooooo excited!  I guess our creek in our backyard has all the right food sources for our various little “Leaf Beetle” friends 🙂  Thank you so much for your help.  My little entomologist cannot wait to send you his next exciting, but tougher to identify, live discovery.
I also have attached a few other pictures you and your staff might enjoy.  One is of Trevor’s collection that my mom (his Grandma), “Ma-su,” have put together from specimens they’ve gathered…pretty impressive for a 4-5year old kiddo! He also has a pet jumping spider of which we have some fun pictures which I have attached, including his picture with a blow up spider at our local museum’s (Sam Noble Museum in Norman, OK) Bug Exhibit! We also did an ant farm; soon we will order ladybug larvae for his Ladybug Land so we can watch their metamorphosis. Disclaimer: no bugs in the collection picture were harmed intentionally…all were discovered either in the swimming pool skimmer and/or after they had already gone to bug heaven before we found them!
Thanks again,
Trevor’s mom

Trevor's Insect Collection
Trevor’s Insect Collection

Wow, your swimming pool is a magnet for insects, including Caterpillar Hunters, Wheel Bugs, Grasshoppers, Scarabs, Cicadas, a Cottonwood Longhorn Borer, an Io Moth and a Painted Lady.  Trevor looks rapt with his ant farm.

Ant Farm has Trevor's attention.
Ant Farm has Trevor’s attention.

Letter 2 – Sumac Flea Beetle

 

beetle to i.d/
Location: North Dallas, outdoors, dry weedy area
November 12, 2010 3:47 pm
I found this pretty beetle, smaller than a ladybird beetle, on
November 12, outdoors in dry weedy area — actually discovered crawling up my pants leg.
He/she is new to me, and I’d like to know the name.
Signature: r thomas

Sumac Flea Beetle

Dear r,
It took us a bit of searching before we were able to identify your Leaf Beetle as a Sumac Flea Beetle,
Blepharida rhois, a species that BugGuide indicates is a variable species.

Letter 3 – Sumac Flea Beetle

 

Subject: Not a ladybug!
Location: Moore, OK
June 3, 2012 1:07 pm
My 4 year old son is totally into bugs! He caught this lovely guy yesterday – not the usual ladybug that he typically brings in 🙂 We want to know what it is?
He found it on the slide of his swingset in our backyard. June 2 in Moore, Oklahoma.
Signature: Trevor’s mom

Sumac Flea Beetle

Dear Trevor’s mom,
Though we immediately recognized this as a Leaf Beetle in the family Chrysomelidae and we recalled identifying it previously, we still needed to turn to BugGuide to research and we quickly identified this pretty little beetle as a Sumac Flea Beetle,
Blepharida rhois.  According to BugGuideit is found:  “Throughout eastern US to AZ and southern CA / adj. Can.”  In a few days we will be going on a short holiday so we are postdating your identification to go live during our absence.

Sumac Flea Beetle

Thank you!  We had gotten so far as figuring out it was some kind of leaf beetle, but I’m a little rusty!  Thanks for the the quick reply 🙂  Not sure how he ended up in our yard…I don’t think there are any sumacs nearby!  Have a nice holiday 🙂

 

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.

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