Potato Bug – Identifying and Removing the Pest

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There are over 20,000 species of beetles in the world, so figuring out which ones live in your backyard can be difficult. While some beetles are perfectly harmless and are a part of the natural ecosystem, others, like potato bugs, are real pests among your crops.   

Potato bugs: After working hard in your garden, the last thing you want is for pests to come and take over. Potato bugs, also known as Colorado potato beetles, feed on potato plants and other members of the nightshade family. They are yellow in color with brown lines down their wings. Once they hatch, the bugs will quickly eat surrounding leaves. To trap potato bugs, shake the plants so the bugs fall off. Then, place them in soapy water. You should also inspect the leaves and remove any groupings of eggs. You can also use ladybugs to eat the larvae and sprinkle diatomaceous earth to kill the bugs. Continued vigilance of your garden can ensure the future protection of your precious plants.

What is a potato bug?

First, know that there are a few species of beetles with the word potato in their names, which can quickly get a bit confusing.

Overall, however, the term potato bug usually refers to the common Colorado potato beetle. This is also known as the ten-striped beetle, as it has ten stripes on it.

The Colorado potato beetle is about 3/8 of an inch long and has a yellow body with brown stripes. There are five brown stripes along each wing, hence its name.

Despite its name, the Colorado potato beetle lives both in Colorado and the surrounding Rocky Mountains. Although it is originally from this area, it has spread from crop to crop around the United States and Canada. Eventually, the potato bug managed its way to Europe in the 1850s as a result of hitching a ride on a trade ship.

The species name of the potato bug is called L. decemlineata.

Why is it called a potato bug?

To put it simply, potato bugs eat potatoes, hence the name. While this beetle will eat other crops, they primarily wreak destruction on potato plants.

The potato bug eats plants associated with the nightshade family. As well as potatoes, this includes tomatoes and eggplants.

Types of Potato Bugs

types of potato bug

Colorado Potato Beetle

Perhaps the most infamous type of potato bug is the Colorado Potato Beetle. It is native to the Rocky Mountain area in the United States but due to migration, it can be found in other areas in the United States and even Europe.

The Colorado Potato beetle has a yellow body and five brown stripes on each of its wings. It is also known as a ten-striped beetle because of its markings.

Unfortunately, the Colorado potato beetle is a major pest. It will quickly devour crops of potatoes and other plants in the nightshade family, such as tomatoes and eggplants.

Its lifecycle can be as short as 21 days long, which means it is very prolific.

Jerusalem Cricket

While not as common as the Colorado potato beetle, the Jerusalem cricket also has the nickname of a potato bug.

These insects are actually a misnomer as they are not actually a cricket and they are not even bugs. Instead, they are insects in the Orthoptera family.

At first glance, a Jerusalem cricket looks like a wasp, except it does not have wings. Its body is a yellow color and there are black stripes along its body. Two large antennae stick out at the front.

Even the location in their name is not accurate, as Jerusalem crickets are not native to Jerusalem. Instead, they are native to the western area of the United States, along with areas of Mexico.

Jerusalem crickets have a diet of decaying matter, so they are not a threat to people or to crops. They will eat dead leaves and even other insects.

If you come across Jerusalem crickets, you should be a bit cautious, however. They can smell quite badly and they are able to bite, which can be painful.

Pill bugs

There is one type of insect that goes by many different names, depending on where you live. It is often called a roly-poly and has a curled-up shape to it.

This is actually a pill bug, which belongs to the family of woodlice. They usually only eat decaying matter, such as dead leaves, and are therefore not considered a pest.

Even though many people call a pill bug a potato bug, it is not the same as what we will discuss in our article.

Pillbugs are native to Europe but can now be found across the United States and Canada. They can walk with straight bodies but if they are threatened, they will quickly form a ball with their bodies.

Lifecycle of Potato Bugs

Eggs

A female potato bug can lay up to 500 eggs in a cycle, which is why these bugs are such a pest. Eggs are laid within a four-week period and only are 1 mm long. They are yellow or orange in color.

Female potato bugs will lay their eggs in hidden places, such as the undersides of leaves. The eggs remain for four to 15 days.

Larvae

After a short period of time, potato bug eggs hatch into small larvae. They are reddish-brown in color.

Larvae will quickly consume the leaves they are on, using them as nutrients to grow. This stage will quickly alert you if you have a potato bug infestation.

Larvae take about two weeks to grow to full size.

Pupa

After potato bug larvae reach their full size, they enter a stage of dormancy called a pupa. This is when they form a chrysalis around their body.

First, the full-size larvae burrow into the ground and then they pupate for up to 10 days. Finally, they become adult bugs and emerge into the surface.

Adult beetles

When potato bugs emerge from their chrysalis, they are full-grown adult beetles. They will have yellow bodies and brown stripes on them.

As adults, their primary concern is feeding and mating. This process can repeat itself two to three times a growing season.

Hibernation

During the pupa stage, potato beetles may delay their emergence from the ground if it is now too cold. They enter an extended dormant period and remain in the ground until the outside temperature warms up, before starting the stages all over again.

How to Know If You Have a Potato Bug Infestation

how to know if you have potato bug infestation

Holes in leaves

Once potato bug larvae hatch from their eggs, their main purpose is to eat as much as possible. Even though they are incredibly tiny at first, there are usually groups of 50 larvae on one single leaf.

These tiny larvae will start to eat the leaves they are born on, and you will see small to large holes in leaves as they munch through them.

Bright yellow color

The good news about potato bugs is that they don’t camouflage well. Even though they prefer the hidden, underside of leaves, their bright color is a sure sign of their existence.

Look for bright yellow or orange coloring on your plants, as this means you have potato bugs. The beetles keep this distinct color through all their stages of life, so you can see it in their eggs through to their final beetle shape.

How to Get Rid of Potato Bugs

Start with resistant cultivars

Thanks to new agricultural technology, there are no plants that are more resistant to pests. If you live in an area that has a history of potato bug infestations, you should start with these plants.

Also, remember that potato bugs eat more than just potatoes. So, if you are growing plants like tomatoes or eggplants, be sure to find cultivars that are also resistant to pests.

Start early in the day

As soon as you wake up, be sure to do a thorough walk-through of your vegetable garden. If there is any evidence of the bugs, including holes in leaves or the beetles themselves, shake the plants.

Place pieces of cloth or burlap on the ground and then shake the plants so the beetles fall. This is important as beetles will easily hide under leaves and it can be hard to see and catch them all.

Once you capture your beetles dump them into a bucket of soapy water. This will kill the beetles in a quick and humane way. Remember that you can’t simply move the beetles away from your garden as they will quickly find their way back to the plants.

Add mulch

Potato bugs have a distinct life cycle and while they may not be visible in your garden during winter, that does not mean they have gone away. Instead, they hibernate underground and emerge once the weather warms up.

Adding mulch around your plants can impede their movement. You can add bark mulch, hay, or straw in early spring, once the first shoots of your plants come up.

Create angled trenches

Between your rows of potato plants, you should dig shallow trenches. Line these with plastic to catch falling potato bugs.

The key with trenches is that they need to have very steep slopes. Aim for a 50-degree slope at least, as this will confuse the beetles and they will be unable to climb up.

Use other insects

Ladybugs are a type of beetle and instead of snacking on plants, they will eat small insects. You can introduce ladybugs to your garden when potato bugs are in the larvae phase.

Ladybugs are also great if you have an aphid infestation. May local gardening centers will offer boxes of ladybugs you can use when there is a pest problem in your garden.

Diatomaceous earth

We understand you may be skeptical about using pesticides but there are many innovative ways of killing your potato bugs. One of them is diatomaceous earth.

This product is made up of fossilized remains of diatoms. Diatoms are freshwater algae creatures and the substance is safe around both children and pets.

Simply sprinkle the product around your garden and backyard, including patio areas and hidden crevices. Once the potato bugs walk through this earth, it will actually dry the bugs out, killing them by dehydration.

Organic pesticides

Chemical pesticides should be avoided at all costs. Even though they might quickly get rid of your potato bug problem, pesticides are harmful to other beneficial insects, namely bees.

If you have a large infestation and natural remedies are not working, you can try an organic pesticide as a last result.

Always look for a certified seal of organic material when purchasing these. If in doubt, contact your local gardening store to see what they recommend.

Are potato bugs harmful?

Although potato bugs are certainly harmful to plants, they are not poisonous and therefore are not harmful to humans.

You can come into contact with these bugs and not have to worry about any allergic reactions.

The one consideration is that there is a type of potato bug called the Jerusalem Cricket. This beetle can bite people and while not poisonous, the bite can be painful.

Are Potato bugs dangerous?

To humans, potato bugs are not dangerous. To plants, however, they can be devastating. Potato bugs have been known to wipe out entire crops and if you are a farmer, this can mean your whole livelihood.

What does a potato bug turn into?

A potato bug is in its final beetle form. These beetles work hard to eat and reproduce before female beetles lay eggs, which then turn to pupae, and finally adults again.

The entire life cycle of potato beetles can take as little as 30 days, which is why these pests are so prolific. They can cycle through two to three life cycles every season.

Conclusion

Potato bugs will quickly ravish your potato plants and other crops and are therefore a pest that should be avoided. Engage in routine observation of your crops and look for holes in your leaves. Remove any larvae and place adult beetles in soapy water to kill them.

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