Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Identifying the Eggplant Flea Beetle

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Identifying the Eggplant Flea Beetle

Article excerpt

Q. I planted my first vegetable garden this year, and things are growing surprisingly well. The only real problem is my eggplant. The leaves are full of tiny holes and look more like lace than leaves. I do see some small black bugs, but they jump away when I try to look at them more closely. Can you tell me what they are and how to get rid of them?

A. The eggplant flea beetle (Epitrix fuscula) is one of this plant's most common pests. Other species of flea beetles also feed on cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), potatoes and sweet corn. High populations of these pests can slow development of transplants and severely limit photosynthesis by destroying the foliage, which in turn reduces the yield from infested plants.

Flea beetles are small (1/16th to 1/8th of an inch), black or brown beetles with hard shells. They jump like fleas when disturbed.

Adults overwinter in the soil and on plant debris. They emerge in spring and feed on weeds until vegetable garden crops are planted. After feeding briefly, they lay their eggs in the soil. Tiny gray grubs hatch in two or three weeks, and feed on plant roots and the surface of the leaves. Fortunately, larval feeding does not usually cause damage to plants. Then they pupate in the soil and hatch out as adults, which may feed for two months. The tiny holes in the leaves are characteristic of adult feeding.

Cultural controls include good weed control in and around the vegetable garden. This removes the alternate food source for the overwintering adults until garden transplants are planted out in the garden. Good garden sanitation -- the prompt removal of annual vegetable plants at the end of the growing season -- also helps eliminate overwintering sites.

Flea beetles are much more damaging to young transplants than more mature plants. …

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