NC State Extension Publications

Description and Biology

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The crapemyrtle flea beetle, Altica litigata, is also called the water primrose flea beetle, the evening primrose flea beetle, and the primrose willow flea beetle. This is a small, dark metallic, blue-green leaf beetle is called a flea beetle because it can jump more or less like a flea. Both the adult flea beetles and their grubs feed on the leaves of plants in the primrose family. This is different from many other leaf beetles whose grubs feed on the roots of various plants. Although the adults can be a significant pest of crape myrtle, crapemyrtle flea beetle grubs are never found feeding on crape myrtle. The adults away the lower surface of crape myrtle and chew irregularly shaped, somewhat circular holes in the leaves of Ludwigia (water primrose), and other related plants. Small, yellowish, oblong eggs are laid in loosely organized groups on the leaf surface. Small grubs hatch and feed in small groups that skeletonize the leaves. Grubs have black heads but otherwise are greenish yellow with black spots on their bodies. After grubs mature, they crawl down and burrow into the soil to pupate. Grubs form a loosely constructed chamber usually located just below the soil surface in which they molt into a naked, yellow pupae. New adult beetles emerge some time later.

crapemyrtle flea beetles

This crape myrtle must have been growing near a stand of water primrose to be infested with so many crapemyrtle flea beetles.

Crapemyrtle flea beetles usually lay their eggs

Crapemyrtle flea beetles usually lay their eggs in more organized masses.

The egg masses of crapemyrtle flea beetles on water primrose

The egg masses of crapemyrtle flea beetles on water primrose probably resemble this example.

Flea beetle grub

Flea beetle grubs are small, yellowish-green, and spotted.

Another example of an Altica flea beetle

Another example of an Altica flea beetle grubs.

Host Plants

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Crapemyrtle flea beetles do indeed feed on crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia), but only adults have been collected there. They have a distinct preference for L. indica rather than L. fauriei cultivars. These beetles have been found on evening primrose and other plants although the normal hosts for this flea beetle are plants in the genus Ludwigia (water primrose, rattlebox, or water purslane). It has also been reported from purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria.

Residential Recommendations

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Most of the insecticides labeled for use in residential landscapes should give more than adequate control on crape myrtle. However, because water primrose is semiaquatic, it is not a good idea to use pyrethroid insecticides near standing water (pyrethroids are toxic to fish and other aquatice animals).

Other Resources

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For assistance with a specific problem, contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.

This Factsheet has not been peer reviewed.

Author

Professor Emeritus
Entomology & Plant Pathology

Publication date: March 14, 2019
Revised: Sept. 12, 2019

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