What Is A Colorado Potato Beetle? (5 Things To Know About Them)


If you grow potatoes, you might have heard of the Colorado Potato Beetle, or Potato Bug. This pest can damage potato plants, but there is more to know.

So, what is a Colorado Potato Beetle?  Colorado Potato Beetle is one of the most destructive insect pests of potato plants. It lays eggs on the undersides of leaves, and they hatch to feed on the leaves. They can completely defoliate a plant. Colorado Potato Beetles can also affect other nightshade plants (like tomatoes and peppers).

Of course, there are numerous other insects that feed on Colorado Potato Beetle eggs and larvae. So, there are ways to help control them.

In this article, we’ll talk about Colorado Potato Beetles and what you need to know about them. We’ll also look at some ways you can combat this pest.

Let’s get started.

The Complete Guide To Growing Potatoes Cover

The Complete Guide To Growing Potatoes


A complete reference and an ultimate guide that teaches you everything you need to know about potato selection, planting, care, harvest, and storage.

What Is A Colorado Potato Beetle?

Colorado Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) is an insect pest that feeds on plants in the Nightshade (Solanaceae) family. This includes potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers.

Colorado Potato Beetle
Colorado Potato Beetle is an insect pest that feeds on potato plants and other members of the Nightshade family (Solanaceae).

Colorado Potato Beetles is native to the Rocky Mountains in the U.S., but they have spread to feed on potato plants across America and in Europe.

Colorado Potato Beetles can cause tremendous damage to potato plants. This begins when a beetle lays eggs on the undersides of leaves on a potato plant.

Colorado Potato Beetle defoliation
Colorado Potato Beetles can cause severe damage to plants, possibly causing complete defoliation.

After the eggs hatch, they begin to feed on the leaves. Given enough time and enough hatched eggs, the larvae can defoliate a plant.

What Does A Colorado Potato Beetle Look Like?

Colorado Potato Beetle eggs look like small, yellow or orange capsules (like a pill). You will find them in groups of about 15 to 30 on the undersides of leaves.

Colorado Potato Beetle Eggs
Colorado Potato Beetles lay clusters of 15 to 30 small, pill-shaped orange or yellow eggs on the undersides of leaves.

Female Colorado Potato beetles can lay 500 eggs in a month or so. After 4 to 15 days, the eggs hatch into larvae (this depends on temperature).

A Colorado Potato Beetle larva has four stages. The head is black in all stages, with early hatchlings red and later stages pinkish or orange.

Colorado Potato Beetle Early Larvae Resized
Early Colorado Potato Beetle larvae are reddish and later become orange or pink.

Eventually, the developed larvae crawl into the soil and pupate. Later, they emerge as mature beetles to feed before spending the winter underground.

Colorado Potato Beetle Late Larva
After the larva feeds and develops, it pupates in the soil and emerges as a beetle.

An adult Colorado Potato Beetle is small, at only ¼ to 7/16 of an inch long, and only about 1/8 inch wide. They have a yellowish-orange color with 10 black stripes that run from front to back (5 on each wing cover).

Colorado Potato Beetle Black Stripes
An adult Colorado Potato Beetle has an orange to yellow body and 10 black stripes running from front to back (5 on each wing cover).

What Do Colorado Potato Beetles Eat?

Colorado Potato Beetles feed exclusively on plants in the Nightshade (Solanaceae) family. This includes:

  • Bittersweet Nightshade
  • Black Nightshade
  • Buffalo-bur (originally the Colorado Potato Beetle’s only food source!)
  • Eggplant
  • Ground Cherry
  • Hairy Nightshade
  • Pepper
  • Potato
  • Tobacco
  • Tomato
ripe tomatoes on vine
Colorado Potato Beetles may feed on tomatoes and other members of the Nightshade plant family.

So, they might come to your garden if you are growing potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants. (Goji berries are also in the nightshade family!)

The Complete Guide To Growing Potatoes Cover

The Complete Guide To Growing Potatoes


A complete reference and an ultimate guide that teaches you everything you need to know about potato selection, planting, care, harvest, and storage.

What Damage Do Colorado Potato Beetles Cause?

Colorado Potato Beetles can cause severe defoliation (leaf damage and destruction) on potato, tomato, eggplant, and other food crops.

If the leaf damage is severe enough, a potato plant may not produce any tubers for the season (meaning a 100% loss of productivity).

Colorado Potato Beetle damage
Colorado Potato Beetles can cause severe defoliation of potato plants and other crops. If the damage is severe enough, a potato plant will produce no tubers at all.

A Potato Beetle larva can eat 40 square centimeters of potato leaves during its growth stages. An adult Potato Beetle can eat 10 square centimeters of potato leaves in 1 day.

Colorado Potato Beetles cause tens of millions of dollars of damage to crops due to lower yield and the need to use insecticide and other control measures.

They may also cause damage to the fruit of tomato or eggplant.

What Eats Colorado Potato Beetles?

There are lots of insects and spiders that eat Colorado Potato Beetles or their larvae. They include various beetles, lady bugs, shield bugs (stink bugs), lacewing, wasps, and damsel bug.

ladybug
Some ladybugs eat the larvae of Colorado Potato Beetles. However, they have other predators as well, including spiders, toads, and birds.

According to the University of Vermont Extension, toads and birds also eat Colorado Potato Beetles.

Where Do Colorado Potato Beetles Live?

Colorado Potato Beetles live in places around the U.S. and Europe. Originally, they started in the Rocky Mountains of the U.S., feeding on Buffalo-Bur (a member of the nightshade family).

When settlers came to the American West in the late 1840’s for the Gold Rush, they brought potatoes. Since potatoes and Buffalo-Bur are in the nightshade family, the Colorado Potato Beetles must have tried them and taken a liking to them.

Rocky Mountains
Colorado Potato Beetles are native to the Rocky Mountains in the U.S., but they have spread across the country and made their way to Europe a century ago.

The beetle spread throughout U.S. states, made its way to France after World War I, and spread throughout Europe.

Adult Colorado Potato Beetles live underground during winter, emerging to feed and lay eggs on the undersides of leaves. The eggs hatch into larva and live on the leaves of potatoes or other nightshade plants, feeding on the leaves.

Can Colorado Potato Beetles Fly?

Colorado Potato Beetles can fly. As such, they are able to travel a fairly long distance to find food after they emerge from soil in the spring.

Colorado Potato Beetle Late Larva 2
Colorado Potato Beetles can fly, but their larvae cannot. So, try to pick them off, wash them away, or suck them up with a vacuum to decrease the population.

Colorado Potato Beetle Larvae cannot fly, so try to pick them off by hand, spray them off of plants with water, or suck them up with a vacuum to get rid of them early.

How To Get Rid Of Colorado Potato Beetles

There are several methods you can try to get rid of Colorado Potato Beetles:

  • Biological Pest Control  – You can also introduce insects to your garden that will feed on Colorado Potato Beetles. For example, some ladybugs will eat the larvae of Colorado Potato Beetles. You can also learn more about biological pest control here.
  • Crop Location – Colorado Potato Beetles feed on nightshade plants, so don’t put tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants near each other, if you can help it. Otherwise, it will be too easy to the beetles to fly from one type of plant to the next.
  • Crop Rotation – Don’t plant potatoes (or other nightshades) in the same place every year. Move your potato plants to a different spot in the garden each year so that beetles have further to go to find them (they might still find them, but predators will have more time to catch them).
  • Hilling – In addition to preventing green potato tubers, hilling with straw also creates an environment that helps predators that eat Colorado Potato Beetles. You can learn more about hilling potatoes here.
  • Insecticide – Colorado Potato Beetles have developed resistance to many common insecticides, and using them may encourage them to develop further resistance.
  • Picking – This old-fashioned method of insect control may take a while, but it is worthwhile. Remember that one female Colorado Potato Beetle can lay 500 eggs in a single season, so every little bit you can do will help to control this pest.
  • Plastic Lined Trenches – Dig a trench and line it with black plastic. Potato beetles will crawl before they start to fly, and they may get trapped in the trench. When the sun heats up the plastic, they won’t be able to survive.
  • Row Covers – A row cover is a lightweight sheet of flexible fabric that protects plants from cold and pests. Covering a row of potatoes will help to stop Colorado Potato Beetles from laying eggs on the undersides of leaves.
  • Vacuum – If you have a small hand-held vacuum, you can use it to suck up eggs, larvae, or beetles and then dispose of them.
  • Variety Selection – You can also try planting different varieties of potato plants. Early season potato varieties will be ready for harvest earlier than other potatoes – possibly before Colorado Potato Beetles can do much damage.
row cover
Row covers can help to prevent an infestation of Colorado Potato Beetles on your potatoes (or other nightshade plants).
The Complete Guide To Growing Potatoes Cover

The Complete Guide To Growing Potatoes


A complete reference and an ultimate guide that teaches you everything you need to know about potato selection, planting, care, harvest, and storage.

Conclusion

Now you know about Colorado Potato Beetles and the damage they can do to potatoes and other nightshade plants. You also know some ways to help control them in your garden.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

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Jon M

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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