Among all the different pests that can be found in herbaceous horticultural crops, which include different types of plants, such as potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines, as well as cabbage, cauliflower and turnip among many others, is the famous potato beetle.
The potato beetle is a powerful beetle and one of the most aggressive beetles on the leaves of potato plantations. The cause is its rapid development and attack, which can definitively end the harvest of these tubers.
What is the potato beetle?
Is named potato beetle and it is known scientifically as Leptinotarsa decemlineatato a very characteristic insect as a pest in the different potato plantations, attacking them and in some cases even ending the life of the plant.
It is a beetle that is part of the chrysomelid family and that can be seen in any part of the world where potato crops are grown, for which in addition to acting as a pest, it has a very wide distribution throughout the planet.
The area of origin of this beetle curiously has nothing to do with the area in which it originated potato, back in Upper Peru, in South America, but these have adapted in a very fast and particular way to this nutritious plant, which was the one that replaced the natural nutritious plant of these insectswhich was more zonal. This is what has caused its spread to different places on the planet where there are tuber crops.
The first characteristic by which it is usually known that our potato plants have these beetles, is that we will see an insect with a body completely covered in stripes.
These can have about 10 yellow and black stripes in their upper part, while at the end of their shell we will see their head emerge, from a slightly reddish to light shade and with some dark colored spots on the upper part. Regarding its measurements, it can have a length that will not exceed 10 millimeters.
This beetle that uses tuber crops was first described by a North American researcher, naturalist and entomologist named Thomas saythrough shots he made of specimens found in the famous Rocky Mountains, which stretch from Alaska to the northern United States.
What most characterizes this type of beetle and what is most taken into account as a concern for those potato growers around the world, is the speed and the great capacity they have to reproduce.
The egg-laying of these insects occurs on the underside of the leaves and each of these beetles can lay, 5 to 20 eggs per leaf, about 2000 eggs on different leaves of one or more plants.
These eggs, in view of the human being, can be quickly perceived on the underside of the leaves and this has to do with the fact that they contrast in green with a yellowish color or very particular orange.
In the event that we perceive a somewhat redder tone close to these orange spots, we will be facing the larvae of this same insect. These are the ones that will generate particular damage to plantsas they will be the ones that once the eggs have hatched, begin to feed on the leaves of the plant for their development.
How to detect the presence of the potato beetle?
As we mentioned before, both the eggs and their larvae in the growth stage, and just after hatching, they will be positioned on the underside of the leavesso making periodic checks on this other side of these leaves will be the right way to detect that our plant is being eaten by these potato beetles.
Another factor that will determine that these are activating against our crops, will be that we will see the nibbled leavesalso generating a curl, which is one of the most common symptoms in the leaves of all types of plants when they are under threat of a plague.
As we have mentioned before, this beetle can not only be seen in the potato crop, but it is also very common in all other styles of solanaceous plants, such as tomato and the eggplant, causing in all these some damages that in principle may have a merely physiological nature.
The potato beetle can cause severe damage to all crops of these tubers and other nightshades. As we all know, the potato has been distributed all over the world, having plantations in every country on the planetso this has also caused this beetle to be distributed over the 5 continents.
Europe learned of the plague power this beetle has as a result of the serious damage already caused by this insect in areas of the United Statesso it would be in the 30s and 40s when precautions had begun to be taken, but then it was the world wars that led to a logical disregard for these plagues.
The potato beetle can destroy such a plant almost entirely. The deterioration of its leaves is very visible, since not only the insect uses them but also its larvae. You will be surprised to know that 200 larvae of these coleopterans can feed on a kilo of leaves and that a single female in a crop can affect half a hectare of plantation for a full year.
This is because these beetles usually feed on the foliar epidermisleaving only the petioles and the area in its center, ultimately causing the plant to dry up.
Another problem tuber growers face is that there is no type of predator for this species of beetle. This has to do with the fact that it is an exotic species in most parts of the planet, something that has caused it to have no natural enemies, nor did it have predators in the areas of origin.
Pick them up by hand
One of the first things you can do, being the most effective, is to go on the offensive and uproot the beetles that are slowly moving around your plants. This is easiest to accomplish on a sunny, warm day when pests are not hiding.
Then leave them in a container with soap and water, that will eliminate this pest quickly and easily. While it may be best to kill the adults, make sure you get as many larvae as possible, as they do the most damage.
Floating row covers
The floating row covers can help protect your plants from insect pests. Use a specially designed lightweight floating swath and fully secure the material to the ground with soil or staples.
Make sure not to cover the plants in an area where they were grown before, since these pests can overwinter in the groundso you could have an infestation under the floating row cover if you’re not careful.
Another form of protection is to grow plants that attract these insects. If you grow traps around the perimeter of your garden, the beetles will colonize the first host they see. This can delay its spread.
Any host plants that they enjoy eating will function as a trap crop, including other members of the family. Solanaceaelike the ground cherry, the nettle, the tomato and the strawberry, they are the indicated ones.
Life cycle of the potato beetle
To get to know the potato beetle better, we can mention that its life cycle is between one month and 40 days of existence. When hatching occurs, the larvae will first feed on the surface of the leaf, showing a very characteristic red hue, which may become lighter during development.
In this development they will damage the leaf in different ways, in principle their larvae feeding and then, when they reach their transformation to adult, they will continue this process of deterioration of the plant. They can have several generations a year.