Five things you need to know about flea beetles

May 29, 2015

Canola Council of Canada media release

May 29, 2015 – Striped and crucifer flea beetles are the most common insect pest in Canadian canola, and with slower crop emergence this year, flea beetle damage seems more severe than usual. Here are five important points to help with flea beetle scouting and management this year:

1. Flea beetle damage can advance quickly. The action threshold for flea beetles in canola is when average leaf area loss reaches 25% or more. Foliar insecticide provides an economic benefit when damage reaches 50%, but feeding can advance very quickly from 25% to 50% leaf area loss — especially in warm and calm days — so 25% is the action threshold.

Julie Soroka, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research scientist with a specialty in flea beetles, says that on warm and calm days, damage can advance from 25% in the morning to 50% by evening.

“This is one insect pest where frequent scouting is required, particularly if the crop is growing slower than the flea beetles are eating,” says Canola Council of Canada (CCC) agronomy specialist Keith Gabert. Scout the same areas each time as feeding damage can vary across the field. Leave flags if necessary. Pay particular attention to new growth as this is the only way to accurately identify recent feeding.

“Basically, if your crop looks worse today than it did yesterday, find out the cause. If flea beetles are responsible or 25% or more of the damage, seriously consider a spray,” Gabert says.

2. Flea beetles will keep eating on cool days. Crucifer flea beetles, the most common all-black species, will reach peak emergence when soil temperatures reach 14-15°C. Striped flea beetles tend to emerge earlier. But once flea beetles have emerged from winter dormancy, they will keep feeding — even at cooler temperatures.

The difference is that while flea beetles tend to fly around on calm days with temperatures above 15°C, they will walk and hop from plant to plant on cooler days.

3. Spray can be effective on cool days, but not wet days. Insecticide will be effective on cooler days as long as the flea beetles are active. Malathion is the only product that requires a minimum temperature of 18-20°C. Other product labels say to apply when flea beetles are active, but to avoid the warmest parts of the day. Some specify that they should not be applied when temperature are above 25°C.

However, if conditions are cool AND wet, don’t bother spraying anything. “Flea beetles don’t like rain, and will take cover in the soil and wait it out,” Soroka says. Product labels also say not to spray if rain is likely within one hour.

4. Stem feeding can be more damaging than leaf feeding. While flea beetles may not do much on wet days, on cool and windy days they will move down to stems and keep feeding. There is no set economic threshold for stem feeding, but if the stem is chewed through or leaf stalks are severed, leaf area loss will be 100%. If flea beetles are primarily on stems, consider 25% plant stand loss as the point where action may be warranted.

Soroka reminds growers that if stem damage is observed, make sure damage is actually from flea beetles. “Wind and frost can also cause stem damage,” she says. “While flea beetles may be present, if most of the damage is from other causes, an insecticide application may not provide an economic benefit.”

Sprays work through contact and ingestion, and are therefore more effective when flea beetles are on top of leaves and exposed to direct contact. Some contact will occur when flea beetles are on stems, and as long as water volumes are sufficient and there is no rain in the near forecast, ingestion will also provide some control.

5. Seed treatments are less effective on striped flea beetles. Current canola seed treatments are not as effective on striped flea beetles as they are on crucifer flea beetles. “However, the difference is slight and no matter which species are present, the same level of scouting is required to determine the potential need for a foliar insecticide application,” Gabert says.

Seed treatments may also be close to the end of their 28- to 35-day protective period. Some early seeded crops, provided they were in moist soils and started to take up moisture right away, will start to lose this protection by now. This is particularly important in fields that have been slow to develop, and do not reach the four-leaf stage — the stage when canola plants are no longer as vulnerable to flea beetle feeding — within the seed treatment’s protective period.

For more on flea beetle management, go to and search for articles called “Estimating flea beetle damage in canola” and “How to make the flea beetle spray decision.” While there, click the “Sign up” tab at the top to receive the free weekly Canola Watch agronomy email.

For more information, media can contact Canola Council of Canada agronomy specialist Keith Gabert or a CCC agronomy specialist in your region:

Keith Gabert, Central Alberta South
[email protected]


Justine Cornelsen, Alberta South
[email protected]

Dan Orchard, Central Alberta South
[email protected]

Greg Sekulic, Peace Region
[email protected]

Clint Jurke, Northwest Saskatchewan
[email protected]

Warren Ward, Southeast Saskatchewan
[email protected]

Shawn Senko, Northeast Saskatchewan
[email protected]

Nicole Philp, Southwest Saskatchewan
[email protected]

Angela Brackenreed, Manitoba
[email protected]

This media release is supported regionally by:
Alberta Canola Producers Commission; SaskCanola; Manitoba Canola Growers Association; Canola Council of Canada; B.C. Grain Producers Association.

The Alberta Canola Producers Commission is a farmer directed organization representing Alberta’s 14,000 canola growers and is a core funder of the Canola Council of Canada.

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