NC State Extension

Scouting for Tobacco Flea Beetles

When to scout for tobacco flea beetles

Tobacco flea beetle adults are frequently present in tobacco immediately after transplant until around six to seven weeks later. After this point, plants typically outgrow the flea beetle populations. In some cases, damaging tobacco flea beetle populations may also develop near harvest.

What part of the plant to scout for tobacco flea beetles

Tobacco flea beetles feed on upper and lower leaf surfaces. Post transplant,tobacco flea beetle adults may be present on and damage the entire plant.

Tobacco flea beetle damage on recently transplanted tobacco plant. Photo via Sterling Southern.

Tobacco flea beetle damage on recently transplanted tobacco plant. Photo via Sterling Southern.

Near harvest, flea beetles are most common in the lower 1/3 of plants, near the stalk.

Photo: Hannah Burrack

Adult tobacco flea beetles feeding near the stalk. Photo: Hannah Burrack

How to scout for tobacco flea beetles

When scouting for tobacco flea beetles, it is important to inspect the top and underside of every leaf.  Thresholds are based on live beetle counts, but flea beetle damage can be an indicator of a developing population. Flea beetle damage looks like small “shot holes” on leaves. 

Numerous, tiny, "buckshot-like" holes are due to late season flea beetle damage. Photo: H.J. Burrack

Numerous, tiny, “buckshot-like” holes are due to late season flea beetle damage. Photo: H.J. Burrack

While, beetles are quite noticeable on leaves, they also jump, as their common name suggests. It may be easier to get accurate flea beetle counts in the early morning when it is cool and beetles are less active.

Tobacco flea beetle thresholds

The threshold for small plants, post transplant, is an average of 4 or more beetles per plant. The post topping threshold for tobacco flea beetle is an average of 60 or more beetles per plant.  It is difficult to count beetles on fully grown tobacco plants, and we hope to develop alternative thresholds to facilitate easier post topping scouting.

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