What do Potato Bugs Eat might be a silly question to ask, but it is equally important when it comes to getting rid of them!
If you ever grew potatoes, then you must have seen the infestation of small, extraterrestrial insects crawling on the surface of leaves and near the roots. They can be quite a mess for your potato plants. They are known as potato bugs, and if you have questions hovering in your mind, like What do Potato Bugs Eat and how to get rid of them, then you are at the right place!
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What are Potato Bugs?
Potato bugs are classified into two different categories:
- The Jerusalem Cricket
- The Colorado Potato Beetle
The Jerusalem Crickets or potato bugs (Stenopelmatus fuscus) are discovered in the western and southern regions of the United States. They are a group of wingless insects having large, human-like jaws, heads, and an alien-like appearance. California potato bugs are large and can be 2-3 inches in length. They also have amber-yellow heads, legs, and thoraxes with black-brown rinds on the abdomen.
Colorado Potato Beetles or potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) belong to the nightshade or Solanaceae family and are endemic to the United States except for Alaska, California, Hawaii, and Nevada.
Potato bugs barely reach an inch and have black vertical stripes with hard yellow-orange outer wings. In the late 1800s, potato bugs start ruining potato, tomato, eggplant, and pepper fields all over North America and Europe. Now they can be witnessed throughout Asia.
Life Cycle of Potato Bugs
During winters, the adult Colorado Potato Bugs go 5-10 inches underground in field margins, gardens, potato fields, and windbreaks.
- In her adult life, each female potato bug lay up to 350 eggs, which last many weeks.
- The eggs start to hatch within 2 weeks, according to temperatures.
- During spring, adults feed for a small time. They begin to mate and lay clusters of 10-30 eggs on the undersides of the foliage.
- The larvae accumulate near the egg mass at a young stage and start to move across the plant as they munch the foliage.
- Larvae finish development within 10 days if average temperatures are between the mid-80s, whereas it can takes a month if the average temperature is near 60 F.
- The fourth instar larvae fall from the plant, excavate in the soil, and change into pupae.
- In central and southern Minnesota, there is a second generation. By midsummer, all stages of Colorado potato beetles, larvae, adults, and eggs can come to the potato field.
What Do Potato Bugs Eat?
The diet of Potato Bugs includes other insects, roots of vegetable crops, and of course, their favorite – potato tubers in the potato field. Potato Bugs don’t just harm potato crops but other vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants from the Nightshade family. Female potato beetles lay eggs underneath the foliage, and the larvae survive by eating the leaves.
Potato bugs suck the juices from the foliage and stem of vegetables and fruits, which affects the growth of plants as the cricket leaves its toxic saliva behind, which harms plants. Potato bugs don’t have toxic glands hence they’re not vicious.
Although some gardeners do not consider potato bugs as pests in the garden and view them well for the soil, they aerate it when the cricket bugs bramble through the soil.
Potato Bugs are also great for eating away dead roots and other decaying organic matter in your garden. In the lack of dead plant material, Jerusalem crickets begin to eat the fresh young plants in the garden.
Damage Caused by Potato Bugs
Potato bugs greatly affect the potato yield as they munch on the plant leaves and can take over the whole plant if not controlled on time. Potatoes can resist 30% foliage loss without affecting the harvest, whereas Colorado potato beetles will end up feeding the whole of their foliage in a couple of weeks, ultimately killing the plant.
Also, the plant is sensitive and cannot take defoliation during the expansion of tubers, so potato bug infestation during this stage leads to limited or no harvest at all.
How to Get Rid of Potato Bugs?
Potato Bugs can ruin the crop if they come in large numbers. They can be prevented by using chemical insecticides, trapping, baiting, disposal, and physically removing eggs or beetles from the plant. It is a good idea to keep an eye on outdoor objects such as lumber, woodpiles, and rocks that can become a hiding places for insects. Potato Bugs can also be controlled by crop rotation. Here are some natural ways to remove potato bugs from your garden or yard.
1. Kill Potato Bugs with Diatomaceous Earth
This non-toxic way to eradicate potato bugs from the garden use food-grade diatomaceous earth dust near your garden. DE is a natural powder from the fossilized remains of a kind of algae.
According to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), diatomaceous earth destruct the insect’s exoskeleton. This makes them dry and die, use food-grade DE as it is safe for the garden. Keep in mind that it is not useful in wet or damp climates.
Simply sprinkle the DE in potato bug-affected areas, repeat the process every few days, and reapply it after rain when the soil dries out.
2. Use Neem Oil
Potato bugs can resist many commercial pesticides, but you can use Neem oil. It is safe for humans and has low toxicity to plants. Neem oil is effective in controlling Colorado Potato beetles and other bugs. Try this home remedy by making an insecticidal spray this way;
- Take a 500 ml spray bottle, and fill 3/4 water.
- Add 2 tablespoons of neem oil and one tablespoon of Castile soap.
- Shake well to mix the ingredients.
- Spray on the areas where you spot the bugs.
- Reapply it every 2 days to settle the potato bug problem.
- Keep in mind that potato bug larvae are seen on the undersides of the foliage, so don’t forget to spray those areas.
3. Take Help from Birds and Insects
You can rely on the natural enemy of potato bugs, including birds from the shrike family and insects like spiny soldier bug that eats the eggs and larvae of the beetles.
Lady beetles and stink bugs will catch Colorado potato beetle eggs. The Beauveria bassiana fungus is effective for both adults and larvae.
4. Use Traps to Eliminate Potato Bugs and their Eggs
Make a trap by applying petroleum jelly on a small board and place it where you suspect the bugs; they will stick to the trap when walking on them.
5. Clean the Yard
Get rid of potato bugs by keeping your yard free from debris, eliminate dead grass, plant material, and leaves regularly. Store firewood at least 5 cm from the ground, and do not accumulate trash.
6. Pick Beetles From Plants
Handpicking is also an effective measure in a small garden. Drop larvae and adults in a bucket filled with soapy water. Crush or take off the yellow-orange eggs on the undersides of the foliage. Check the potatoes regularly, as new beetles can fly in the garden.
7. Use Pesticides
Use azadirachtin or spinosad; these products are gentle on natural enemies. Azadirachtin (Neem) comes from the neem tree of Asia and Africa.
It works for a couple of days and needs a repeat application. Spinosad comes from the soil bacterium Saccharopolyspora Spinosa. It is useful for 10-14 days.
8. Plant Early Maturing Varieties
To prevent damage from adults developing in midsummer, plant early maturing varieties. Examine the seed catalog for cultivars that mature in less than 80 days.
The crops on early maturing varieties are not as large and do not store well compared to the famous Russet Burbank potato.
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Are Potato Bugs Poisonous?
Potato bugs are not poisonous. However, these pests have toxin-rich saliva that can damage plants. Potato bugs can not be considered harmful to humans without any toxin glands. Sometimes though, a bite from a potato bug (Jerusalem Cricket) can be painful.
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Do Potato Bugs Bite?
Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket, or Child of the Earth Bug bites are not poisonous, but they could inflict bad bites if it feels cornered or threatened.
If you spot a scary-looking bug with black and orange stripes in your home or garden, then you should remove it ASAP. Ensure safety to avoid getting bitten by the nasty bug’s strong jaws.
Tip: You should wear gloves while gardening to prevent getting bitten by these vast, ant-like creatures. Though the pain from the Jerusalem cricket is a non-toxic painful bite, it usually lasts only a few minutes.
What Does a Potato Bug Bite Look Like?
When a potato bug bites, it feels like a sharp stinging feel. According to some people, the pain lasts for a few minutes. The bite gives a swelled or red appearance; sometimes, it looks like an itchy rash or a sore on the skin.
If you suffer from a bite, you’ll experience a painful allergic reaction that needs to be treated properly.
How to Treat a Potato Bug Bite?
To treat the bite, clean the affected area with warm water and soap to prevent germs near the wound. If there is itching and pain, apply diluted apple cider vinegar with a cotton ball 3-4 times a day till the itchiness is gone.
Do Potato Bugs Scream and Cry?
The potato bug does not have wings and moves around by hoping and not chirping like field crickets. But the sound that they make has been compared to a hissing or scratching sound.
If handled rudely, this insect can emit a foul smell. Despite the Spanish name – Nina de la Tierra, it does not cry like a child.
What Do Potato Bug Larvae Look Like?
- They hatch out of yellow to orange eggs about 1 millimeter long on the bottom of the leaves.
- They have two rows of dark spots on each side of their bodies.
- They can be easily spotted by the two rows of dark spots on each side of their shells.
- It is easy to confuse them with the false potato beetles that have alternating white and black stripes on their shells.
- When young, larvae cluster near the egg mass but begin to move throughout the plant and eat all the leaves.
Tip: You can carefully remove or crush the yellow-orange eggs from the bottom of the leaves. Also, drop the larvae in a bucket filled with soap water.
- They are 3/8 inches long and oval in shape.
- The Colorado potato beetle has a yellow-orange prothorax (the part behind the head) and yellow-white wing coats with 10 narrow black streaks.
- Females lay bunches of bright yellow-orange oval eggs on the undersides of the foliage.
- Once the young larvae hatch first, they look brick red with black heads.
- Adult larvae are pink to salmon-hued with black heads.
- All larvae consist of two rows of dark spots on every side of the bodies.