The Insect that Started it all: The Colorado Potato Beetle

Spraying in Paris Green; Colorado Potato Beetle

Spraying Paris Green                        Colorado Potato Beetle

The Colorado Potato Beetle (CPB) is native to Mexico where it fed on a weed, buffalo bur. In 1859, the CPB had adapted to feeding on potato plants in the US and the results were devastating. Yields were reduced, potato prices quadrupled, and many farmers abandoned the crop. Paris Green, a paint pigment, was supposedly determined to have insecticidal properties by a farmer, who after painting his shutters, threw the remaining paint on potato plants infested with CPB. In 1872, entomologists at the USDA recommended that farmers use Paris Green to control CPB and by 1875, spraying Paris Green had become a universal practice in Midwestern potato fields.

“The first major Colorado potato beetle outbreak occurred in 1859 on potato fields about 100 miles west of Omaha, Nebraska. The subsequent expansion in beetle geographic range was somewhat mind-boggling, with beetles reaching the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and Canada before 1880. The first European population was established in France in 1922. By the end of the 20th century, the pest had become a problem all over Europe, in Asia Minor, Iran, Central Asia, and western China. Its current range covers about 16 million km2 on two continents and continues to expand.

Currently, the Colorado potato beetle is widely regarded as the most important insect defoliator of potatoes. One beetle consumes approximately 40 cm2 of potato leaves during the larval stage, and close to an additional 10 cm2 of foliage per day as an adult. In addition to impressive feeding rates, the Colorado potato beetle is also characterized by high fecundity, with one female laying 300–800 eggs. If left uncontrolled, the beetles can completely destroy potato crops.

The Colorado potato beetle has been credited with being largely responsible for creating the modern insecticide industry. Since 1864, hundreds of compounds were tested against this pest, and application equipment was specifically invented to aid their delivery.

Currently, insecticides still remain the foundation of the Colorado potato beetle control on commercial potato farms.”

Authors: Alyokhin, A., et al.
Affiliation: School of Biology and Ecology, University of Maine.
Title: Colorado potato beetle resistance to insecticides
Source: American Journal of Potato Research. 2008. 85:395-413.

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