The invasive Colorado Potato Beetle in Russia

Colorado potatoe beetle. Wikipedia image.

Colorado potatoe beetle. Wikipedia image.

The Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata, is approximately 1 centimeters long, with a bright yellow body cut by five brown stripes along its length, which belong to the leaf-eating beetle family. It was first described in 1824 by Thomas Say and although the true origin of the beetle is unclear, it seems that Colorado and Mexico are part of its native distribution.

The beetle was introduced to Europe in the late 18th century, from there it has spread north and eastwards eventually reaching Russia in around the 1940s. Currently, the species is endemic in Russia. I still remember the stories my parents told me about their childhood lives (elementary school days), when a few days a month would be spent in crop fields collecting these beetles.

Native ranges of the Colorado beetle (yellow) and the potato (green), as well as the current beetle distribution (orange). Wikipedia.

Native ranges of the Colorado beetle (yellow) and the potato (green), as well as the current beetle distribution (orange). Wikipedia.

 

The beetles feed on leaves of plants from the Solanaceae family, which include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and others. This makes the beetle an important pest in agriculture. Furthermore, the species show very high resistance to insecticides, and has been credited with being largely responsible for the development of modern insecticide industry.  Since 1864, hundreds of different compounds have been applied against the beetle, including DDT. Currently, insecticide remains the primary control of the beetle in commercial farms; these insecticides are composed of over 30 different compounds.

This summer I had the chance to visit my grandparents in Izhevsk and was fortunate to go see the dacha which I have not seen for over 20 years. My grandparents, their 70s, still continue to grow their own vegetables, fruits, and berries in order to reduce reliance on industrially grown products as much as possible. Their tomatoes,  eggplants and cabbage make the best borscht and eggplant caviar.

Borscht straight from the garden. Izhevsk, Russia.

Borscht straight from the garden. Izhevsk, Russia.

But before you can eat, you still have to spend several hours bent over collecting these beetles from the potato, tomato and eggplant leaves. There has been a few years when their harvest was reduced by over 50% because of increased summer temperatures and their inability to come and physically pick them off the leaves.

About 5 minutes of collection, this is the result.

About 5 minutes of collection, this is the result.

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