Skip to Content

Flea Beetles – What They Are, What They Eat and How To Get Rid Of Them

Close up of a shiny black flea beetle resting on an eggplant leaf riddled with tiny holes.
Excuse me, little guy, this is your eviction notice.

No garden is complete without a set of garden pests. That is if you are growing organically.

There is no possible way to be entirely bug-free. But, why would you want to be anyway?

In general, most insects are great to have rummaging around in your garden, pollinating your flowers and taking care of the bad guys. Those backyard friends are called beneficial insects. You’ll want to attract as many of them as possible.

Several ladybugs setting close to one another on a basil leaf. The sun is shining on them.
A meeting of ladybugs as they discuss how many aphids will be eaten that day.

Then you can work on enticing toads and frogs into your garden as well.

Let’s get back to the jumpy topic of flea beetles.

I know they aren’t everyone’s favorite and in some seasons they can be downright annoying. Maybe with a little knowledge and understanding, we can come to terms with why they are in your garden. Perhaps even find out what you can do about their presence.

What Are Flea Beetles?

Shiny, bright blue flea beetles clustered on the leaf of a plant which they have defoliated.
If they weren’t making such a mess of your garden, you might be able to enjoy how pretty flea beetles can be.

Flea beetles are tiny, shiny jumpy little things that eat thousands of holes in just about everything you might want to plant in your garden. Unfortunately, they have an enormous appetite for seedlings. So, getting your garden started may be a problem if their numbers are large.

Maybe you’ve seen their damage, but lost sight of them as they hopped away and hid in the mulch or under protective leaves of another plant.

Or you’ve spotted them and felt that growing sense of helplessness as your garden is attacked from all leaves at once.

I know. We’ve been there, more than once. It seems they are difficult to dissuade from nibbling your garden crops.

What Do Flea Beetles Look Like?

The flea beetles currently residing in our garden are shiny and tan colored, with a couple of stripes as decoration.

Close up of two tan and brown striped flea beetles on a leaf.

But there are so many different species, that your garden pests may look slightly different. Flea beetles can be black, bronze, bluish or tan, with random colors mixed in. Their hard shells are usually shiny with stripes or spots, or a solid back.

Flea beetles also jump, like fleas, when danger comes near. Their large back legs come in handy for this feat. That’s one way you might notice them.

But at 1/16 of an inch, they will easily escape your sight.

Rather than trying to track the flea beetles down and identify them, you might want to examine your crops more closely first. There will always be tell-tale signs of flea beetle damage.

What Does Flea Beetle Damage Look Like?

Holes. Lots and lots of tiny holes, like birdshot scars from a shotgun shell.

Tracey's hand holds a cluster of eggplant leaves which are completely riddled with tiny holes.
Fellow Rural Sprout author, Tracey Besemer, was happy to provide some photos of her flea beetle-infested eggplants for us.

It’s the adults that cause the most damage to your crops as they feed on both leaves and stems. The larvae are generally harmless.

It’s important to know, that plants started from seed are more likely to suffer damage, than those which are transplanted. If you notice they are becoming a problem, try and outgrow them by transplanting as many plants as you can into your garden.

However, if conditions are right, they will attack plants grown from seeds and transplants alike.

It’s always helpful to understand the life cycle of an insect, to know best how to get rid of it. That comes a bit later, let’s first find out what they like for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Crops That Flea Beetles Like Best

Flea beetles are known to feast on young vegetable crops, including:

Close up of an eggplant leaf with hundreds of tiny holes chewed in it.
Once they get started munching, it doesn’t take long for your plant leaves to look more like Swiss cheese.

But you may also find them on regular garden weeds, lettuce, sunflowers, squash, corn and beans. It all depends on the devouring species of which there are many.

There are crucifer leaf beetles (Phyllotreta cruciferae), spinach leaf beetles (Disonycha xanthomelas) and striped flea beetles (Phyllotreta striolata) which feed on more specific plants.

Extreme closeup of a tiny fawn colored flea beetle resting on the edge of a leaf.
“I only want a few bites.”

If you are dealing with the palestriped flea beetle (Systena blanda), just about every young plant is at risk. They’ll even take a few bites out of mint, though I’ve never seen them on our calendula or chives.

Life Cycle of Flea Beetles

Flea beetles survive the winter as adults, hiding in mulch, leaf litter, wooded areas and hedgerows. Yet, you need some of those wild places in order to cater to other creatures.

Don’t get carried away and try to remove all ground cover. Take it easy and know what you need to do in spring when the flea beetles become active once again.

Different species have different breeding habits.

Female flea beetles will lay single eggs, or clusters of eggs in holes in the ground, roots or leaves of other garden vegetables. A good reminder as to why it’s so important to clean up your garden at the end of each season.

A spiny and yellow flea beetle pupa on a leaf.
This flea beetle pupa will soon be nibbling through your favorite vegetable leaves.

Then, small white/yellow larvae hatch from the eggs, feeding right where they were laid. The larvae transform into pupae and the cycle begins again, to the tune of one or two generations a year.

How to Protect Your Plants

If you have flea beetles in your garden, you’ll quickly find out that they are most active in early spring.

As soon as you see their activity, you too must spring into action.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to decrease their numbers:

A plastic butterfly shaped sticky trap has been tucked into the pocket of a Garden Tower near the Asian eggplant plant. You can see the flea beetle damage on the nearby leaves.
Sticky traps can be a good option for controlling flea beetle populations.
  • spread diatomaceous earth around plants where beetles are present
  • use sticky traps to get rid of adult beetles
  • manually remove weeds around the garden to limit food sources for the flea beetles
  • spray a mixture of neem oil and water on all affected plant surfaces
  • dust plants with talc or fine clay to repel flea beetles

In short, there is no best way to get rid of them. Yet, there are several ways to make an attempt.

Chemical controls, such as insecticidal dusts, should only be used as a very last resort. It is far better to wait it out and try out some preventive measures for next season, rather than damage your precious garden soil.

How To Prevent Flea Beetles

Prevention is always the best cure.

In the case of dealing with flea beetles, prevention is far easier than killing them off.

To prevent flea beetle numbers from rising:

  • plant your crops as late as possible, as they will grow faster in warmer weather
  • remove old mulch and compost it to get rid of overwintering adults
  • cultivate the soil to expose hidden flea beetles
  • use row covers in season to keep flea beetles off the young seedlings
  • sow nasturtiums and radishes as trap crops before planting other vegetables, as flea beetles will be attracted to them
  • plant aromatic herbs such as basil and catnip to repel beetles
  • attract beneficial insects, such as braconid wasps which will kill the adult beetles
Close up of a braconid wasp on a corn husk. It's a slender, spindly insect with a long tail. The body is orange red with dark brown wings.
A braconid wasp, which will happily munch on your flea beetles.

It’s no easy feat to evict them once they’ve moved in, though all of the preventative measures are definitely worth a try.

At some point, you’ll also want to introduce crop rotation and companion planting into your garden, for the overall health and vitality of your crops.

Whatever you do, don’t let the flea beetles slow you down. As soon as your crops have taken off, there is nothing they can do to harm them. With a little bit of love and care, your garden will outgrow them every time.

Asian eggplants, cucamelons, and ground cherries arranged on a wooden cutting board sitting on top of a brightly colored tablecloth.
In spite of her “holey” eggplant leaves, Tracey is still harvesting plenty of eggplants.

Get the famous Rural Sprout newsletter delivered to your inbox.

Including Sunday ramblings from our editor, Tracey, as well as “What’s Up Wednesday” our roundup of what’s in season and new article updates and alerts.

We respect your email privacy

Cheryl Magyar

Well, hello, szia and bună ziua!

My name is Cheryl Magyar and I am a homesteader, organic no-dig gardener and preserver of fruits, vegetables, herbs and life in general. I'm also a forager and a rewilder, rewilding myself and our land in Breb, Romania, along with my husband and our teenage daughter.

Since 2001 I have been living a simple life, going on 15+ years without running water inside our home, heating with firewood cut with a two-wo/man crosscut saw and enjoying the quiet solitude of the countryside where haystacks outnumber the people.

What you wouldn't guess about me, is that I was born and raised in a suburb of Chicago. If I can do this, you can too! It's a life you get to choose, so choose wisely. Because I know you're curious, I've spent 8 years homesteading (raising mangalica pigs, goats and ducks) and gardening on our tanya in Ópusztaszer, Hungary. This lifestyle is going on 8 years in Romania. I wouldn't change it for the world.

To discover more about me, and about us:

you can follow on Instagram
read into our website at Forest Creek Meadows
stop by for a visit and/or a (re)workshop
or shop our growing Etsy store Earth Gratitude Studio

Hope to see you around!