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Red Headed Flea Beetle in Soybeans and Corn (07/19/18)

There have been several calls, email and texts about the red-headed flea beetle (Systena frontalis) causing foliar defoliation in soybeans and field corn.

Red Headed Flea Beetle in Soybeans and Corn

There have been several calls, email and texts about the red-headed flea beetle (Systena frontalis) causing foliar defoliation in soybeans and field corn. Field reports are from the Finley area in Steele County for soybeans, and near Fordville in Walsh County for field corn. The red-headed flea beetle is about 1/6 inch long and dark black with a reddish head and the beetle readily hops around. It feeds on over 40 different host plants including cabbage, beans, beets, corn, alfalfa, potatoes, nursery crops, cranberry and many weed species. It overwinters in the egg stage in the soil. Eggs hatch in June and larvae feed on the roots. Larvae pupate and then the adults emerge in July-August and feed on foliage until September. Adults deposit eggs in soil, which overwinter. There is one generation per year.

The red-headed flea beetle is not typically an economic insect pest in soybeans or field corn. Extension reports from other states indicate that the adult stage is readily controlled by foliar insecticides registered in different crops. An action threshold for determining the need for a rescue treatment would be based on percent defoliation and the stage of soybean: 30% in vegetative stages (pre-bloom), 15% in bloom to pod-fill, and 25% in pod-fill to maturity (unless pod feeding observed). (See diagram for soybean percent leaf loss).  No threshold for the red-headed flea beetle is available in field corn. This flea beetle may become an occasional insect pest of soybean and field corn in the future, but for now it is considered a non-pest.

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Janet J. Knodel

Extension Entomologist

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