Sunday, June 21, 2015

It's the Three-lined, Two-horned, Flying Orange Potato Eater

Some people might remember the old song about the One-eyed, One-horned, Flying Purple People Eater.  Well, this is the Three-lined, Two-horned, Flying Orange Potato Eater, aka the Three-lined Potato Beetle:


Given the name, one might assume that these little flying beetles mainly eat lots of potatoes, or at least potato leaves. While they do eat potatoes and anything in the nightshade family, including tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, their favorite food is actually tomatillos.

I can vouch for this.


Both the adult beetles and the larvae devour the plant leaves.  The larvae hatch from orange eggs that are laid in clusters, usually on the underside of the leaves along a vein.


The larvae of the Three-lined Potato Beetle quite possibly qualify for the prize of one of the most disgusting animals out there.  When I first saw one, I wasn't sure if it was a slug or a little pile of poop.

winner of the 'Ugliest Baby' award?
I was not that far off the mark - the larvae cover themselves with their own excrement, which is actually toxic from the larvae dining on plants in the nightshade family.  Possible predators take one whiff of the toxic poop and realize they aren't so hungry after all.  Scientist call this protective poop a 'fecal shield'.

I call it 'ewwww.'

Sorry, but your offspring are just plain disgusting.
In order to control the advances of the Three-lined Potato Beetle in small gardens, you can just handpick them.  I crush them when I see them, but since they have a natural instinct to fall to the ground when you touch them, another easy method is to hold a jar of soapy water under them and let them fall into that and drown.  Check carefully under plant leaves, as they are often holding little rendezvous under there.

No!!!  No making more babies on my tomatillo plants!
I also check under the leaves for eggs and larvae and just destroy the ones I see.  Removing nearby weeds in the nightshade family can help control the beetle population, as well as placing row covers early in the season, as long as you rotate crops.  (If you are growing tomatillos or potatoes in soil that has previously held something from the nightshade family, row covers won't help, since the Three-lined Potato Beetle overwinters in the soil.)


For large gardens, if handpicking is too difficult, one can spray thoroughly with insecticidal soap or neem oil, which kills the eggs and larvae.  Some growers will also use chemical means, such as permethrin, bifenthrin, or pyrethrin.


So far the handpicking has been working quite well, and my tomatillo plants are surviving and thriving despite the onslaught.  My guard is up against these three-lined, two-horned, flying orange potato eaters, or in my case, tomatillo-eaters.

(Not to mention the poopy larvae, who sure look strange to me.)





Linking with Nature Notes - a blog party celebrating nature!

29 comments:

  1. That's interesting that you bring this up, Indie, because I saw quite a few beetles on some plants up at our cottage. I believe they were potato beetles, but maybe a slightly different species. The interesting thing is that we have hundreds of Ground Cherry plants in the area where I saw the beetles. And Ground Cherries are in the same genus as Tomatillos--Physallis. I'm hoping the birds will eat the beetles. Thanks for all the fun and interesting information!

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    1. I have some ground cherries nearby, and the beetles have nibbled on them as well, but the tomatillos are the clear favorites! I, too, hope the birds will get in on the action and help us out some!

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  2. What an educational and fun post with terrific photos! 'Fecal shield" is a new one for me, but I well remember the Flying Purple People Eater. Thanks for the memories!

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    1. I'm not sure why this bug brought the song into my head, but now it's rather hard to get it out! :) Glad you enjoyed the post!

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    2. Yes, it is almost a week later, and I still have it popping into my head. Thank you for that!

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    3. Ha, sorry about that! It's one of those kind of songs! :)

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  3. The ends that evolution have gone to to protect its young. Fecal shied is a new one to add to that list. Can you imagine how that came about in the first place? I do remember that song being a hit in England but I can't for the life of me think why.

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    1. I'm guessing the larvae don't really have a sense of smell. Still, ew!

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  4. I wonder if they are related to lily beetles. They look and sound similar.

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    1. I haven't had problems with lily beetles before (knock on wood), but Denise agrees with you. At least they are easy to handpick, as I really hate to spray with anything.

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  5. I agree with rusty duck. Lily beetle larvae are also covered in their own poop and lili beetles also fall to the ground when disturbed. And I also agree with Deb; your photos are terrific.

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    1. Thanks! I shall add lily beetle larvae to the list of very disgusting critters as well!

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  6. A fecal shield--you learn something new every day:) I thought squash bugs were about the most disgusting creatures there were, but I think these potato beetles win the prize after all. I didn't even plant any zucchini this year, because I've gotten tired of them devouring all my squash every summer. Great photos, though--these are worthy of a science magazine!

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    1. Which reminds me I'd better start checking my zucchini plants for eggs! If it's not one thing, it's another when gardening, right?

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  7. Yep, send them to a soapy grave. It is tough when the bad insects get to be to many. It is like we need a bug vacuum.

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    1. That's where I see the future of gardening going - little flying vacuum drones that suck up all the pests! Wouldn't it be nice?

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  8. Great post Indie.... Feel free to link it in if you haven't already. Now I know what I have been seeing. I use the soapy water too... Michelle

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    1. 'Tis the season, isn't it? Bugs and weeds! After keeping on top of the Potato Beetles for a couple weeks, though, the numbers are thinning, thankfully!

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  9. Good afternoon! I was wondering if you might be interested in a guest blogging opportunity with Gardening Know How? If so, please e-mail me for more details at:
    shelley AT gardeningknowhow DOT com

    Thanks!

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    1. Thanks for the outreach, Shelley - I'm flattered!

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  10. I guess we are officially old since I recognized the title right away! To be fair, it is a pretty beetle, but it's a shame it does such damage.

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    1. That is true, the beetles are colorful and not too shabby looking as far as beetles go! If only they didn't eat my tomatillos! :)

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  11. Pretty darn disgusting. I have always wanted to grow tomatillos but never see seeds locally and never think of it in the winter when ordering online.

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    1. I don't usually see tomatillo seeds locally either, which is too bad. I love Salsa Verde, though, and tomatillos are usually much easier to grow than tomatoes for me, so I always make sure to order them!

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  12. I have a different sort of potato beetle that loves to eat my milkweed leaves. The larvae are fat orange blobs without a poop shield. They're very easy to squish. I don't grow tomatillos but will keep an eye for these guys.

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    1. So many different types of beetles! The potato beetles also eat my Ground Cherries, but those are obviously their second choice. They haven't gotten on my tomatoes or peppers yet, though most of those I keep in my greenhouse. I've been seeing birds out in my veggie garden a lot lately, so I hope they are busy eating the bugs!

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  13. Oh these are disgusting. I grow potatoes in a bag with new soil each year and I move my nightshade garden around each year...these remind me of the lily beetles I have been battling.

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    1. One of these years I want to grow potatoes (and Mr. Red House would love if I did.) I've seen them grown in a wire cage, which we have, so I was thinking about growing them that way. I've seen several different clever ways to grow them - I just need to find room in the garden for them!

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  14. Tis the bug and weed season to be sure!!

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