You would think a potato beetle would eat potatoes right? Apparently, that’s just not always the case…
This year I am the “lucky” recipient of not one, but two different Potato Beetles deciding my plants are the best to eat. But I don’t have any potato plants! These beetles are actually eating my tomatillo and eggplant plants.
Potato Beetles are in the taxonomic family Chysomelidae, aka the Leaf Beetles, because most members in the family eat the leaves of something. While Potato Beetles do eat the leaves of potato plants, they will apparently also eat the leaves of a number of other closely related plants found in the same plant family – the nightshade plants (taxonomic family = Solanaceae). This includes not just my eggplants and tomatillos, but also plants like tomatoes, Jimsonweed, and Horse Nettle. I may not have potatoes, but I have all the others growing in the garden or the weeds (last year I even found some Jimsonweed, which was a surprise).
At first I thought I only had the Three-Lined Potato Beetle, Lema daturaphila, in residence, as I had seen some of the adults earlier in the year enjoying an orgy on my tomatillos. And I definitely found both their eggs and their larvae, aka baby beetles, aka super poopers, on my tomatillo leaves. Want to know something gross? The larvae actually take their poop and pile it on top of their backs to hide under! They do this as a defensive mechanism against predators, because who wants to eat a pile of poop instead of a juicy grub? I sure don’t. Although to be fair, I really don’t want to eat the grubs either….
On to beetle species number two. At the same time as I found the Three-Lined Potato Beetle larvae, I also found a bunch of beetle larvae going to town chewing holes in my eggplant leaves. My eggplants are located in the same bed as my tomatillos, and the larvae looked kinda similar at a glance, so I thought they would all be the same thing. Not so! Upon closer inspection, while they do look a little similar, the beetle larvae on the eggplant leaves were a different color, different shape, and, and, they don’t have poop on their backs lol. These little buggers on my eggplant leaves are actually baby Colorado Potato Beetles, Leptinotarsa decemlineata.
Who would have thought? Two different potato beetles, but no potatoes!
Want to learn more about potato beetles? Check out the following resources:
- Utah State University Three-Lined Potato Beetle
- University of New Hampshire Three-Lined Potato Beetle
- University of Kentucky Colorado Potato Beetle
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