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Flea beetle season for canola crops

Striped and crucifer flea beetles are the most common insect pest in Canadian canola, and with slower crop emergence this year, flea beetle damage seems more severe than usual.
Flea Beetle

Striped and crucifer flea beetles are the most common insect pest in Canadian canola, and with slower crop emergence this year, flea beetle damage seems more severe than usual. Here are five important points to help with flea beetle scouting and management this year:

1. Flea beetle damage can advance quickly. The action threshold for flea beetles in canola is when average leaf area loss reaches 25% or more. Foliar insecticide provides an economic benefit when damage reaches 50%, but feeding can advance very quickly from 25% to 50% leaf area loss — especially in warm and calm days — so 25% is the action threshold.

2. Flea beetles will keep eating on cool days. Crucifer flea beetles, the most common all-black species, will reach peak emergence when soil temperatures reach 14-15°C. Striped flea beetles tend to emerge earlier. But once flea beetles have emerged from winter dormancy, they will keep feeding — even at cooler temperatures.

The difference is that while flea beetles tend to fly around on calm days with temperatures above 15°C, they will walk and hop from plant to plant on cooler days.

3. Spray can be effective on cool days, but not wet days. Insecticide will be effective on cooler days as long as the flea beetles are active. Malathion is the only product that requires a minimum temperature of 18-20°C. Other product labels say to apply when flea beetles are active, but to avoid the warmest parts of the day. Some specify that they should not be applied when temperature are above 25°C.

However, if conditions are cool AND wet, don’t bother spraying anything. “Flea beetles don’t like rain, and will take cover in the soil and wait it out,” Soroka says. Product labels also say not to spray if rain is likely within one hour.

4. Stem feeding can be more damaging than leaf feeding. While flea beetles may not do much on wet days, on cool and windy days they will move down to stems and keep feeding. There is no set economic threshold for stem feeding, but if the stem is chewed through or leaf stalks are severed, leaf area loss will be 100%. If flea beetles are primarily on stems, consider 25% plant stand loss as the point where action may be warranted.

Sprays work through contact and ingestion, and are therefore more effective when flea beetles are on top of leaves and exposed to direct contact. Some contact will occur when flea beetles are on stems, and as long as water volumes are sufficient and there is no rain in the near forecast, ingestion will also provide some control.

5. Seed treatments are less effective on striped flea beetles. Current canola seed treatments are not as effective on striped flea beetles as they are on crucifer flea beetles. “However, the difference is slight and no matter which species are present, the same level of scouting is required to determine the potential need for a foliar insecticide application,” Gabert says.

Seed treatments may also be close to the end of their 28- to 35-day protective period. Some early seeded crops, provided they were in moist soils and started to take up moisture right away, will start to lose this protection by now. This is particularly important in fields that have been slow to develop, and do not reach the four-leaf stage.

For more on flea beetle management, go to

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