Let's Have a Little Talk About Potato Beetles
Updated: Feb 3
Let’s have a little talk about potato beetles…
What do you know about potato beetles? Well… When potato beetles fight it’s called a potato beetle battle. And when they battle in a puddle, it’s a potato beetle puddle battle…When beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles and the bottle’s on a poodle and the poodle’s eating noodles… they call this a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle bottle paddle battle. AND…
Now wait a minute, Mr. Socks Fox! You’re telling me there are potato beetles battling in bottles on poodles? I’m pretty sure all they’re actually doing is eating my potato plants! Right you are sir, Mr. Knox sir.
Forgive the completely irrelevant Seuss-ian introduction, I just had to tie one of my favorite childhood tongue twisters into this post because every time I say ‘beetle’ in my head, I’m reminded of Tweetle Beetles. If you’re not familiar, please go to your local library and check out ‘Fox in Socks’.
Dr. Seuss-isms aside, if you’ve ever discovered alien-looking, bright orange larvae or distinctly striped black and yellow beetles munching on the foliage of your potatoes, you’ve spotted the dreaded Colorado Potato Beetle- Leptinotarsa decemlineata . The larvae and adults of the Colorado Potato Beetle feed on the foliage of potatoes (and other members of the Solanaceae or Nightshade family, including eggplant, peppers and tomatoes) and can completely defoliate plants- leading to reduced yields or even plant death.
In most areas, adult beetles overwinter in fields, gardens and surrounding areas. They become active in the spring, about the same time as early potatoes are planted, and begin feeding immediately. One female can lay up to 350-500 eggs during her lifespan and 2-3 generations of beetles can occur in a single growing season—this amounts to the potential for A LOT of potato beetles. To save your crops, using a multi-pronged approach for potato beetle control is your best bet.Colorado Potato Beetles are notoriously difficult to manage due to their ability to develop resistance to synthetic insecticides.
Your first line of defense is cleaning up all weeds of the nightshade family (such as ground cherry) from around your garden, as these serve as a food source for the beetles when potatoes are not available.
Adult beetles and larvae can be handpicked from plants, especially in a small garden, and dropped into a bucket of soapy water. Eggs on the undersides of leaves should be removed and crushed.
Be sure to encourage the presence of natural predators of the Colorado Potato Beetle, including lady beetles, predatory stink bugs, ground beetles, parasitic wasps, toads and birds.
Crop rotation is key—plant potatoes as far away from last year’s planting area as possible, and ideally not in the same spot where any member of the Solanaceae family was growing last year OR consider growing potatoes only every other year.
Choose early maturing potato varieties (80 days or less) as this will allow you to harvest a crop before the heavy onslaught of adults in mid-summer.
Organic pesticides can be effective, and options include products containing pyrethrin, spinosad or neem oil. As a precaution against beetles developing resistance to organic products, rotate sprays amongst products with different active ingredients. Bacillus thuringiensis var. tenebrionis, a naturally occurring bacterial disease, can also be effective in controlling young larvae.
Or you could just make them battle in a bottle on a noodle eating poodle—that’d probably due the trick.