Anyone who has tried to grow their own tasty potatoes has probably run into the ravages of the dreaded ‘potato bug,’ which often devours your potato vines before your tubers even had a chance! This black and yellow striped adult beetle (and its brick red, hump-backed young) is actually the Colorado potato beetle. It originated in Mexico and was innocuously living on buffalo burr plant in the arid prairies of the Western United States when early settlers introduced a new miracle food to the area—the cultivated potato. These beetles just loved this new nutritious food that settlers were now planting for them, and they adapted fast and began multiplying at astonishing rates, spreading eastward and devouring potatoes wherever they found them. They even managed to cross the Atlantic and became the scourge of potato growers across Europe and Asia! This potato-eating machine quickly became the number one insect potato pest worldwide.
There are many reasons that account for the beetle’s continuing success and longevity as a pest, including their perfect synchrony with the potato ecosystem and the lack of natural enemies to keep them in check. Their greatest achievement, however, has been their uncanny ability to develop immunity to every kind of insecticide that has been used to control them. This ability dates back to the very early days; they were the first insect pests to be subjected to widespread and systematic applications of synthetic insecticides—nothing else could prevent total crop loss. This approach worked initially, but success was fleeting as the beetles quickly developed ways to biologically overcome the effectiveness of these crude sprays—just the beginning for the master of adaptability. Since then, the beetle has been able to resist more than 50 different insecticides representing virtually every mode of action that scientists have been able to devise, rendering some ineffective in as little as a year or two! At times, it became so difficult to find an insecticide that still worked that potato growers commonly resorted to burning them off plants with propane and then vacuuming them from plants with huge motorized ‘bug-vacs!’ (more…)