Sandy's Garden

Eggplant Flea Beetle

Pest damages foliage

By: Sandy Feather 2007
Penn State Extension

Q. I am growing eggplant for the first time this year. The transplants seem to be growing well, but the leaves are full of tiny holes. I see small black bugs that jump away when I get near them. What are these bugs and how do I control them?


A. The eggplant flea beetle (Epitrix fuscula) is one of the most common pests of eggplant. Other species of flea beetles also feed on cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), potatoes and sweet corn. High populations of these pests can slow development of transplants and severely limit photosynthesis by destroying the foliage, which in turn reduces the yield from infested plants.


Flea beetles are small black or brown beetles with hard shells. They jump like fleas when disturbed. Adults overwinter in the soil and on plant debris. They emerge in spring and feed on weeds until vegetable garden crops are planted. After feeding briefly, they lay their eggs in the soil.


Tiny gray grubs hatch in two or three weeks and feed on susceptible plant roots and the surface of the leaves. Then they pupate in the soil and hatch out as adults. Adult flea beetles may feed for two months. The numerous tiny holes in the leaves are characteristic of adult feeding.

Cultural Control

Cultural controls include good weed control in and around the vegetable garden. This removes a nearby alternate food source for the overwintering adults until garden transplants are planted in the garden. Good garden sanitation -- the prompt removal of annual vegetable plants at the end of the growing season -- also helps eliminate overwintering sites.

Flea beetles are much more damaging to young transplants than more mature plants. If you can protect the young plants until they start producing fruit, you should get a good yield.

Rotating Crops

If you practice crop rotation, you can exclude the adults from susceptible crops with floating row covers (Reemay, Garden Blanket). Plant the transplants, and then cover with the floating row cover. Leave enough excess fabric to allow room for the plants to grow. Then seal the edges with soil.

Once the plants are half-grown and start to bloom, you will have to remove the covers to allow bees and other pollinators to work. At that point, see how large a population of flea beetles is active on them. If there aren't many, the plants can probably live with them.

Otherwise, begin protecting them with insecticide applications. You may also wish to try a newer product called Surround (kaolin clay). This is a particle film that is sprayed on plants and protects them by creating a physical barrier to pest feeding and egg-laying. You can use it instead of row covers or begin using it once you remove the row covers.

Surround is a thick material and works best with sprayers that have mechanical agitation to keep the clay particles in solution. You may find that it clogs conventional pump sprayers.


Insecticides labeled to control flea beetles include a combination of the botanical insecticides rotenone and pyrethrins as well as Sevin (carbaryl). Some formulations of neem (azadirachtin) may also be effective.


Whitefly control with insecticidal soap



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