What Do Potato Bugs (Colorado Potato Beetles) Eat?

Written by Jude Speegle
Updated: June 10, 2022
Image Credit Laszlo Szelenczey/Shutterstock.com
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Potato bugs, or Colorado potato beetles, are actually considered pests in most of North America. They are a huge reason why pesticides began being implemented. They are super strong and grow resistant to pesticides over time. While that’s really interesting, it means that they can still be a considerable problem for potato farmers.

Yes, that’s right, potato bugs do, in fact, eat potatoes.

Sometimes potato bugs can be called the same thing as pill bugs, popularly known as rolly-pollies. But in this instance, we are only referring to the orange and black colorado potato beetles.

What Foods do Potato Bugs Eat?

What Do Potato Bugs Eat - Colorado Potato Beetle
Potato bugs eat a large variety of foods including tubers (potatoes), roots, fruit, and even other bugs.

Manfred Ruckszio/Shutterstock.com

Yes, potato bugs actually ate so many potato leaves over time that it negatively impacted potato farming in Colorado. Of course, they eat more than just potato leaves; they just are known for that harmful tendency.

A list of things potato bugs eat include:

  • Tubers (potatoes)
  • Eggplants
  • Leaves
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Small insects
  • Females even eat their own young

What Do Potato Bugs Do?

What do potato bugs eat - Potato Bug Group (Colorado Potato Beetle)
Potato bugs are considered pests that eat and lay eggs on the leaves of important crops.

vladimir salman/Shutterstock.com

This is a pretty loaded question. Potato bugs eat and lay eggs, which is more harmful than you’d think. They eat and eat from people’s gardens and crops, and they eat the leaves, tubers, and plants. Then they lay eggs over the leaves of different plants such as tomatoes or eggplants. 

This is not good for the plants, and when they hatch, they consume the plants. That is why the Colorado potato beetle is so detrimental to crops, especially in the state of its moniker. When in the molting stage, potato bugs eat almost continuously, so a whole colony of them could massacre crops or a garden quite quickly. 

An Agriculture Canada publication goes through their life stages and states that the female potato bug may eat its own eggs or larvae. 

Are Potato Bugs Poisonous?

No, potato bugs are not poisonous to humans, but that doesn’t mean they are entirely safe. 

They are brightly colored, and a study in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America showed that adult chickens would refuse to eat them when offered and that chicks were more likely to first try them. This suggests that they don’t taste good and may be harmful to other animals to ingest.

The Colorado potato beetle is brightly colored and often in nature, indicating that it should not be eaten because it could be poisonous. Their saliva is very unfriendly to plants and helps the insects break the leaves down faster.

What Do Potato Bugs Turn Into?

Colorado Potato Beetle with Wings
Potato bugs will hibernate over the winter, but when spring comes they begin eating crops.

Laszlo Szelenczey/Shutterstock.com

Potato bugs start as pupae, turn into larvae, grow into juveniles, and finally into adults. They don’t turn into anything other than the orange and black striped beetle that we have already seen.

That’s tough enough though for any ecosystem because they eat so much and devastate areas just by being so hungry all of the time. Potato bugs hibernate over the winter, and then when the spring crops pop up, they start munching.

Do Pesticides Work on Potato Bugs?

What do Potato Bugs Eat - Spraying Tubers
Potato bugs have grown resistant to pesticides.

vitec/Shutterstock.com

This is a bit of a loaded question, due in part to how long Colorado potato beetles have terrorized crops. An article in the Annual Review of Entomology says that they weren’t even originally native to Colorado and didn’t even initially consume potatoes. But once they started, it was an endless battle to get them to quit.

This is ultimately not a battle that the human population has ever won.

You see, we used to have to hand-pick potato bugs off of plants because there was just no other way to get rid of them. That’s why eventually, they were the first cause of mass production of pesticides in attempts to decimate them.

Insecticides worked quite well on the potato bugs initially, and they weren’t too much of a problem again until the 1950s. That’s when the insecticides stopped working as effectively. It turned out the potato bug was growing resistant to them, and we’ve been stuck with these evolutions ever since.

What Do Colorado Potato Beetles Sound Like?

Bugs like cicadas are known for the droning buzzing sound they make at dusk, and hissing cockroaches are known for their hissing, so what do Colorado potato beetles sound like?

The potato bug makes a scratching kind of hissing sound when agitated and can be known to let out a stinky smell when worked up. This is a way to detract predators and why they are so good at lasting over time. They are endemic to the United States, which means they are from our continent, but they don’t seem to have very many natural predators.

Since they have so many deterrents and have grown so hardy against our chemicals, it can be hard to eradicate them entirely.

Do Potato Bugs Bite?

If you look at a picture of a potato bug with its strong mandible and open maw, you will see something frightening. 

Potato bugs do bite, and their bites are solid and can hurt because they are made for biting and chewing. As all they do is eat, they definitely should not be handled without protective gloves.

Overall, the Colorado potato beetle is an insect with a hefty appetite that can destroy crops and gardens. Any farmer or gardener would tell you that finding a colony of them is one of their worst nightmares as they are so hard to get rid of.

So to the question posed- what do potato bugs eat? My friends, the answer seems to be everything we don’t want them to.

Colorado Potato Beetle with Wings

Laszlo Szelenczey/Shutterstock.com
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About the Author

Jude is a writer both by trade and by heart. They have been writing since a very young age and have eight years of professional writing experience. Passionate about animals, Jude has three birds and three cats.

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