Photo 8. Irregular patches on leaf of tobacco where surface layers have been chewed by the tobacco flea beetle, Epitrix hirtipennis.
Tobacco flea beetle
Restricted. North, South (Guyana) and Central America, the Caribbean, Europe, Oceania. It is present in Fiji and Guam.
Eggplant, and many others in the Solanaceae or nightshade family (capsicum, chilli, potato, tobacco, and tomato). Also, weeds, in the same family, e.g., Physalis angulata.
Both the larvae and adults (Photos 1&2) damage plants: the adults feed on both sides of the leaves, chewing small, irregularly-shaped, holes in the leaves resulting in a 'shot hole' appearance (Photos 3-6&8-10). Usually, seedlings are most damaged. The larvae feed on roots.
Eggs are laid at the base of the stem of hosts. The larvae are slender, white with a brownish head, less than 5 mm long. They remain underground feeding on the small roots and root hairs.
Adults are hard-shelled, brown with black markings, about 1.5-2 mm long, with long, 12-segmented antennae. Wing covers have rows of fine but distinct punctures. The hind legs of adults are relatively large, and they jump like fleas.
Large populations can kill or stunt seedlings, but economic damage of mature plants is rare for this species and other Epitrix flea beetles. Large numbers are more frequent (in Fiji at least) during periods of prolonged drought (Photo 7).
Although species of Epitrix flea beetles have been reported to feed on potato tubers, making tunnels in the flesh, in the US and Portugal, no damage of economic significance has been reported for Epitrix hirtipennis. However, anlaysis of the damage caused in Fiji, especially in times of drought may change this.
Look for the pits and tiny holes, many less than 1 mm, in leaves of seedlings and mature plants. Look for beetles, shiny brown and black in large numbers, especially during droughts.
If pesticides are necessary, use botanical (plant-derived pesticides) sprays first, as these may cause less harm to natural enemies, and cost less than synthetic commercial products.
AUTHOR Grahame Jackson & Mani Mua
Information from Peppers. Flea beetles. UC IPM. (http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/r604300611.html); and Cuthbertson AGS (2015) Chemical and ecological control methods for Epitrix spp. Global J. Environ, Sci, Manage 1(1): 95-97 (http://www.gjesm.net/pdf_9553_82f0576dbd1b7d6b6eb59eed9b003d41.html); and from Flea beetles. Colorado State University Extension. (http://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/flea-beetles-5-592/). Photo 1&2 Natasha Wright, Cook's Pest Control, Bugwood.org. Photos 3-6 Mani Mua, SPC, Sigatoka Research Station, Fiji. Photo 8 R.J. Reynolds, Tobacco Company Slide Set, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Bugwood2.org
Produced with support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research under project HORT/2016/185: Responding to emerging pest and disease threats to horticulture in the Pacific islands, implemented by the University of Queensland and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
This fact sheet is a part of the app Pacific Pests and Pathogens
The mobile application is available from the Google Play Store and Apple iTunes.