Take The Fight To Garden Fleahoppers

Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University

Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University

Crops Affected
The list of vegetable crops attacked ranges from beans through zucchini. They also feed on a variety of common weeds and field crops. Occasionally, they will feed on other insects.

Identification
The garden fleahopper (Halticus bractatus Say) occurs widely in the eastern U.S. and Canada and its distribution extends through Central and South America. The nymphs are green in color. Initially, they are pale green, but by the final instar, they become dark green.
The adults are shiny black in color, with some yellow on the antennae and legs. Adult females may assume one of two possible shapes: one with oval body and short wings or one with slender body and fully winged. Wings are speckled with white dots.
The short-winged female form resembles the shape of small aphids or flea beetles. Unlike aphids, the fleahopper jumps readily when disturbed. They differ from flea beetles in the way they feed. Flea beetles chew tissues, leaving holes in the leaves. Garden fleahoppers extract sap using sucking mouthparts. In addition, the antennae of fleahoppers exceed the length of the body, helping distinguish fleahoppers from flea beetles, which have antennae less than half the length of the body.
The garden fleahopper has a broad host range. Nymphs and adults feed on the stems and surfaces of plant leaves, sucking the sap from cells and causing their death. The result is a whitish or yellowish speckling on the foliage. Extensive feeding may stunt plant growth and kill seedlings. Deposition of black spots of fecal material on the plant also detracts from the appearance and marketability of vegetables.

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Survival And Spread
In Florida, fleahopper adults are present all months of the year except December, so overwintering of eggs is not essential under Florida’s warm winter conditions. There are multiple generations per year and there is considerable overlap among generations. All stages can be found through the warmer months. A life cycle can be completed in about 30 days.
The eggs are normally inserted into the stems of vegetation. They are white to yellow in color and curved in shape with one side convex and the opposite side concave. The female deposits the eggs in feeding punctures. Females produce 80 to 100 eggs during their life.

Management Methods
This insect is rarely a pest of commercial vegetable crops because it is normally controlled with insecticides used against other, more serious, pests. However, it may become a nuisance in organic culture or home gardens. Suppression is easily accomplished with insecticides, including such botanical products as rotenone. Since fleahoppers may grow to great numbers on weed hosts, weeds should be monitored and sprayed or destroyed if necessary. Garden fleahoppers also may build to a high number in leguminous crops, so nearby vegetables may be at risk when the leguminous forage crops are harvested.
Natural control has been poorly studied, but parasitic wasps can inflict high rates of mortality.
Consult UF/IFAS recommendations for currently labeled insecticides for fleahopper control in Florida vegetables.