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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - April 15, 2014

From: Austin , TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pests
Title: Tiny beetles eating a native plant in Austin, TX.
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

Help! Found plant devoured in my wildflower garden! Covered with literally thousand of small black bronze beetles. They are on other plants but the other plants (native poppies, coneflower, coreopsis, etc) look fine. I don't even remember what this plant was & can't recognize it now. I live about 2 miles from the Wildflower Center. Thanks!

ANSWER:

There are a number of different beetles that fit the description you've given.  Flea beetles and leaf beetles come first to mind, but there are quite a few species of those as well.  Many of these beetles are quite specific to the plants they eat.  That might be why they've decimated one plant, but not its neighbors even though they're all over them.

We think the insect and plant you've described is Coreopsis Leaf Beetle, Phaedon desotonis on Tickseed, Coreopsis sp.

It is definitely helpful to know which host plant is being eaten.  If that is not possible, you might take a sample of the Travis County Agrilife Extension Service office.  Your county agent can also advise you on what control measures, if any, you might want to employ.

If you can take very sharply-focused close-up images of a beetle, you might submit them to Bugguide.net for identification.  Their ID success rate is pretty high.

 

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