If you’ve seen some strange bugs on your crops, garden, or yard, and someone told you they’re potato bugs, you probably have a few questions about them, such as, what does a potato bug eat? What does a potato bug look like?
You might even be asking, what is a potato bug?
The name potato bug is actually a bit misleading because the same name is applied to two different bugs. They’re different in appearance, size, habitat, and diet. This creates a lot of confusion even among licensed pest control technicians.
In this guide, you will learn:
- How to properly identify potato bugs.
- Whether or not potato bugs are dangerous.
- What potato bugs eat.
- The most popular methods for getting rid of potato bugs.
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Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management. He manages Pest Strategies now helping homeowners around the world!
Table of Contents
What are Potato Bugs?
Because the generic name ‘potato bug’ is used to refer to two different types of bugs, the first thing we’ll do is use different names for them.
The Stenopelmatus fuscus or Jerusalem cricket is one potato bug. Although Jerusalem crickets are in the order Orthoptera, they are not true crickets. They are in the family Stenopelmatidae and don’t chirp like a grasshopper.
Instead of chirping, they make a kind of hissing noise by their hind legs across their abdomen to warn off predators. Also like grasshoppers, they make a song during mating season by bumping their bodies on the ground, producing a drumming sound to attract a mate.
Like the black widow spider, the females often eat their mates after they have finished mating. Then they lay their eggs in shallow holes in the ground.
Despite the name, the Jerusalem cricket is not native to Jerusalem. It is mainly found throughout the southwestern United States as well as the western United States on the Pacific coast from British Columbia to parts of Mexico.
They are nocturnal insects who spend much of their time underground. Their preference for dark places leads to them burrowing into piles of mulch and other organic material.
Colorado Potato Beetle
The Leptinotarsa decemlineata, the Colorado potato bug or Colorado potato beetle, is the other. They are native to most of the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska, but aren’t normally found in California or Nevada. They also live in parts of Europe and Asia.
The Colorado potato beetle life cycle is to spend the winter underground then emerge to lay eggs on the underside of leaves when spring arrives. They’ll generally make their appearance around the same time potatoes start to emerge from the ground and grow tubers, hence the “potato bug” name.
The female lays 20-30 bright orange, football-shaped eggs at a time, attaching them to the underside of leaves with a yellow adhesive excretion. The eggs are less than 2mm in length and the female can lay large numbers of eggs, up to 700-900 of them in her short lifespan.
Are Potato Bugs Poisonous or Dangerous?
Neither type is poisonous. However, the Jerusalem cricket can deliver a painful bite if you agitate them. They normally prefer to escape, but if backed into a corner their large powerful jaws can definitely bite hard.
Colorado potato beetles, by contrast, are virtually harmless to humans. The main concern with them is the damage they can do to your potato crops if sufficient numbers of them hatch at once to create an infestation.
Check out the video below to explore how to get rid of potato bugs with a home remedy.
Read More: How to Get Rid of Japanese Beetles
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What Do Potato Bugs Look Like & How Do I Identify Potato Bugs?
Jerusalem crickets have been known to have a strangely alien appearance to them. They’re quite large, reaching up to 2-1/2 inches in size. Their head looks too large for their body and they have strangely human-like heads with huge jaws.
Their thick, spiny legs are an amber-yellow color and are used to dig in the dirt. Their abdomens have alternating black and brown stripes, with tiny ridges. Their hind legs look like cricket legs.
- Colorado Potato Beetle
The Colorado potato beetle is much smaller, only about 3/8 of an inch in length and look much more like a traditional beetle with a round, oblong body and a small head. They have alternating black and pale stripes on their orange-tinted bodies.
Their head has black, irregular-shaped spots on it with string-of-pearls antennae. They have hard wings and can fly, thus presenting the possibility of a swarm invading your house.
Read More: How to Get Rid of Carpet Beetles
What Are Potato Bugs Commonly Mistaken For?
Potato Bugs Vs. Crickets
Jerusalem crickets are often mistaken for grasshoppers or ordinary crickets – at first glance. They’re in the order Orthoptera, so they have the same basic body shape as a grasshopper. Once yous see the head and jaws though, you’ll know they’re not a cricket.
Potato Bugs Vs. Beetles
Colorado potato beetles are easily confused with a myriad of other beetles. Their body shape and coloration can be mistaken for some other beetle and you won’t realize the threat to your crops until the damage has already started.
Potato Bugs Vs. Spiders
Jerusalem crickets are often mistaken for spiders due to their size and noticeable legs. However, upon closer inspection, you can easily tell it only has six legs instead of eight, the classic sign of an insect rather than an arachnid.
What Do Potato Bugs Eat?
A common question is, what does a potato bug eat? Like all the other questions on this subject, it depends on which potato bug you’re talking about.
Despite often being erroneously called potato bugs, Jerusalem crickets are not major pests for potato plants. Instead, they normally feed on various meats from dead animals and insects, fruits, and tubers. Except in rare cases, they’re not a major pest in potato fields.
They prefer to consume a range of meats, little pests, fruits, origins as well as tubers. Since they lag their eggs in the ground, they will eat whatever is closest, whether it is plant roots or dead insects.
Read More: How to Get Rid of Crickets in Your House
Colorado Potato Beetle
The same can’t be said for the Colorado potato beetle. They are a major pest, laying their eggs on potato leaves which then hatch and begin feeding on the potato plants and tubers. Since the female lays so many eggs at a time, they can multiply rapidly and become a serious threat to the crops.