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Wanted Dead: Three-Lined Potato Beetle

June 9, 2015 | By | 5 Replies More

three-lined potato beetle

Three-lined potato beetles. Yep…they’re doin’ it!

Every year, I learn many new things about nature in my garden. I also discover “new” garden pests that I have to control without nasty chemicals or killing the beneficial insects in my garden. During the summer months, this effort is ongoing. I’ve already started battling aphids and I know the Japanese beetles are on their way soon, too. And then there’s this: the three-lined potato beetle.

Several weeks ago, I spotted a patch of familiar weeds growing in my front yard. As summer progresses, they get little husked fruits on them similar to a ground cherry. These weeds are host to lots and lots of this little, cute bug that I’ve also just spotted on my young tomatillo plants in the garden. I began learning about this garden pest and how to keep its damage to a minimum.

three-lined potato beetle

Three-lined potato beetle eggs

 

 

Meet the three-lined potato beetle. If I wasn’t trying to grow food, I might think they were kinda cute with their orange heads and little black stripes. En masse, they are destructive and can defoliate plants quickly. They go after many plants in the nightshade family – tomatillos, tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants. They also love my volunteer moonflower plants, and have been using them as a venue for their massive orgies.

Once you understand the life cycle of the three-lined potato beetle, control becomes easier and more targeted. The adult beetles begin reproducing in spring, lay neat rows of tiny orange eggs on the undersides of host plant leaves, and then the larvae emerge to feed on plant leaves.

You can prevent damage by using floating row covers on your nightshade plants to exclude the beetles. However, this only works early in the season. Floating row covers need to be removed once the plant starts to flower or you won’t get any pollinators. The adult three-lined potato beetle can be difficult to catch. They sense that I’m near and then fly away before I can catch them. In the morning, they’re not quite so fast and I can pick them off. I keep a jar of soapy water at the ready and just toss the bugs in it to kill them.

Population control is easier, in my opinion, at the egg and larvae stages. I regularly check my plants for orange eggs since they aren’t hard to spot on the undersides of the leaves. I simply smoosh them all with my fingers, satisfied that I have just prevented many more hungry three-lined potato beetles.

three-lined potato beetle

OMG…Ewwww! The larvae.

If you don’t see the eggs easily on your plants, you will certainly be able to spot the larvae a bit later. I’m warning you, I am not one to be grossed out by insects, but these are just completely ger-osssss! Are you ready for this? The larvae carry their own excrement around with them…on their backs! The benefit of this though is that they are easy to see on plant leaves. They almost look like clumps of fresh bird poop. When I see the larvae on my plants, I just pick off the entire leaf and put it in the jar of soapy water.

If you’re an organic gardener, complete elimination of the three-lined potato beetle is unlikely. But, if you keep them in check using the techniques I’ve described, you will control them and keep damage to your future food to a minimum. Happy bug hunting!

 

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Category: General, Home and Garden, Kitchen Garden

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  1. Using Beneficial Nematodes in Your Garden - Tomato Envy : Tomato Envy | July 21, 2015
  1. petra says:

    Hi Brande! Just googled this bug and your post is the third search result. This bug destroyed my potatoes last year and they are back now. Hopefully I will do a better job picking them off my plants this year. We have been getting so much rain here my garden is looking a little sad. If this beetle doesn’t do in my potatoes, these downpours might. Hope you are doing great!

    • Brande says:

      Hi Petra! So nice to hear from you! We had a really slow start with the garden too here. Lots of rain and it was so slow to warm up. I just today harvested my first tomato – weeks later than usual. Those potato bugs are so hard to catch because they are FAST, but good luck. I think you get bonus points when you can get a mating pair. 😉

  2. Sky Mahoney says:

    Thank you so much for this page–these critters are destroying my ground cherries which is sad because the kids (ours and the whole neighborhood) just love the fruits. I hand picked quite a few beetles last night and tonight and smooshed some eggs, but now I’m going to go back and smoosh all the eggs!

    • Brande says:

      I’m glad you found this post helpful! And, oh yes, they love ground cherries. I find these pests are at their worst in late spring and controlling them naturally will take some consistent effort on your part. Their populations naturally seem to taper off in summer. So, there is light at the end of the tunnel, just keep an eye out for those eggs and enjoy your ground cherries.

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