Jacques, Jr. and Thomas R. Fasulo
"potato beetles" are members of the beetle genus Leptinotarsa, with 32 species in North America,
including Mexico; 10 species in the continental United States, including two species in Florida. The most
notable is the Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata (Say), found in Florida and most of the
United States, and introduced into Europe and parts of Asia. It is a serious pest of potatoes and other
Chrysomelidae, or leaf beetles, is one of the seven largest families of Coleoptera. All members are
phytophagous, both as larvae and as adults. Some feed on roots, others on stems or leaves of herbaceous plants,
and some mine the leaves of woody plants. They belong to the subfamily Chrysomelinae represented by over 2,000
species distributed throughout the world. Most larvae of the Chrysomelinae live openly on plants while feeding,
and they usually burrow into soil to pupate. Many economically important species are found in this subfamily.
Colorado potato beetle was first discovered by Thomas Nuttal in 1811 and described in 1824 by Thomas Say from
specimens collected in the Rocky Mountains on buffalo-bur, Solanum rostratum Ramur. The insect's
association with the potato plant, Solanum tuberosum (L.), was not known until about 1859 when it began
destroying potato crops about 100 miles west of Omaha, Nebraska. The insect began its rapid spread eastward,
reaching the Atlantic coast by 1874.
evolution of the name "Colorado potato beetle" is curious since the beetle did not originate in Colorado but is
believed to have originated in central Mexico. It had a series of names from 1863 to 1867, including the
"ten-striped spearman," "ten-lined potato beetle," "potato-bug" and "new potato bug." Colorado was not connected
to the insect until Walsh (1865) stated that two of his colleagues had seen large numbers of the insect in the
territory of Colorado feeding on buffalo-bur. This convinced him that it was native to Colorado. It was C.V.
Riley (1867) who first used the combination: Colorado potato beetle.
decemlineata occurs in
most areas of the United States, including Florida. It was first reported in Florida in 1920, but it is not
often a major pest.
juncta is found
primarily in the southeastern United States from northern Florida to eastern Texas, north to Missouri, southern
Illinois and Indiana, and east to Maryland and Virginia.
Leptinotarsa is assigned to the tribe Doryphorini containing three genera in the United States,
recognized by having the procoxal cavities open behind, simple claws separate at base and usually divergent.
Species of Leptinotarsa are recognized by the following features: maxillary palpi (mouthparts) with
apical segment shorter than preceding, truncate; mesosternum not raised above the level of prosternum; profemur
of male simple.
species of Leptinotarsa occur in Florida: L. decemlineata, the Colorado potato beetle, and L.
juncta (Germar), the false potato beetle. The latter incorrectly has been called the "false Colorado potato
beetle" because of its similarity to L. decemlineata.
measure about 3/8 inch long and are yellowish-orange with multiple black stripes down the back (Wilkerson et al.
decemlineata, the pale yellow elytra are outlined in black, with each elytron having five vittae (broad
longitudinal stripes). Vitta 1 is shorter than other four and adjacent to the sutural margin. Vittae 2 through 5
extend more than half the length of the elytron and are very distinct. Elytron punctation is coarse in irregular
juncta, each pale yellow elytron has five black vittae, with vitta 1 bordering sutural margin and extending
from just below the base to the apex. Vitta 2 shorter than first and not reaching base. Vitta 3 and 4 connect at
the apex of elytron with space between black. Vitta 5 is along the lateral margin of elytron. Punctation is
coarse, in very regular rows outlining each vitta. There is a distinct black spot on outer margin of femur.
bright orange in color and football-shaped.
cyphosomatic, reddish larvae of the Colorado potato beetle are 1/2 inch long when mature. The larvae have black
spots down the sides.
cycle of the Colorado potato beetle starts with the adult as the overwintering stage. They dig into the soil to
a depth of several inches and emerge in the spring. They feed on newly sprouted host plants where they mate.
deposit eggs on the surface of the host plant's leaves, usually on the undersurface protected from direct
sunlight. An egg mass may contain from 10 to 40 eggs, and most adult females deposit over 300 eggs during a
period of four to five weeks. Eggs hatch in four to five days depending in part on temperature and humidity.
larval instars last a total of 21 days. The larvae feed almost continuously on the leaves of the host plant,
stopping only when molting.
drop from the plants and burrow into the soil where they construct a spherical cell and transform into yellowish
pupae. This lasts from five to 10 days. There are one to three generations per year, depending on latitude.
cycle of the false potato beetle is similar to that of the Colorado potato beetle. Eggs hatch in four to five
days and the larvae feed on the leaves of the host plants. There are four larval instars lasting 21 days. The
larvae drop to the soil to pupate, and pupation lasts 10 to 15 days.
are the preferred host for the Colorado potato beetle, but it may feed and survive on a number of other plants
in the nightshade family: eggplant, tomato, pepper, tobacco, ground cherry, horse-nettle, common nightshade,
belladonna, thorn apple, henbane, and its first recorded host plant: buffalo-bur.
potato beetle is found primarily on the common noxious weed, horse-nettle, Solanum carolinense L. It also
feeds on other solanaceous plants, such as species of ground cherry or husk tomato, Physalis spp., and
common nightshade, Solanum dulcamara (L.).
the Leptinotarsa Species of Florida
punctation in regular rows from base to apex, vitta 3 and 4 connect at apex of elytron, space between black;
black spot on outer margin of the femur. (southeastern U.S.)..... juncta (Germar).
punctation irregular, not forming regular rows, no black space between vitta 3 and 4; no black spot on legs.
(Widespread)..... decemlineata (Say).
Colorado potato beetle may be managed culturally by crop rotation or destruction of crop debris. Insecticides
are commonly used to control populations of Colorado potato beetle, but resistance to insecticides develops
rapidly (Wilkerson et al. 2005).
management information see: Insect Management Guide for Vegetables (http://edis.
RH. 2000. American Insects: A Handbook of the Insects of America North of Mexico. CRC Press. Boca Raton. 1003
JL. 2001. Handbook of Vegetable Pests. Academic Press, San Diego. 729 p.
NL, Hofmaster R, Semel M. 1981. History of Colorado potato beetle control. In Advances in Potato Pest
Management. Lashomb, JH and Casagrande, R (eds.). Hutchinson Ross Publishing Company, Stroudsburg, PA.
1969. Nightshades: the Paradoxical Plants. W.H. Freeman and Co., San Francisco. 200 p.
RL. 1972. Taxonomic Revision of the Genus Leptinotarsa (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) of North America.
Xerox University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, MI. 180 p.
Madge RB 1984. The 'when' and 'why' of the 'Colorado potato beetle.' Bulletin of the Entomological Society of
London 8: 175-177.
1867. The Colorado potato-beetle. Prairie Farmer 20: 389.
1865. The new potato bug, and its natural history. The Practical Entomologist 1: 1- 4.
JL, Webb SE, Capinera JL. 2005. UF/IFAS
Vegetable Pests I: Coleoptera - Diptera - Hymenoptera . UF/IFAS
document is EENY-146 (originally published as DPI Entomology Circular 271), one of a series of Featured
Creatures from the Entomology and Nematology Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of
Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Published: July 2000. Revised: May 2005. This document is
also available on Featured Creatures Website at http://creatures.ifas.ufl.edu. Please visit the EDIS
Website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.
L. Jacques, Jr., Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry,
Gainesville, FL and Thomas R. Fasulo, Department of Entomology and Nematology, Institute of Food and
Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.
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