Implementing Decisions 2012/270/EU adopted measures to protect the Union against the introduction and spread of Epitrix spp., which were updated by implementing Decisions 2014/679/EU, (EU) 2016/1359 and (EU) 2018/5:
Four species of Epitrix earth fleas native to North America cause damage to potatoes (Solanum tuberosum): E. papa, E. cucumeris, E. tuberis and E. subcrinita. Similar to the earth fleas native to our cabbage plants, the adult beetles can be found on the foliage, where they cause pitting. The larvae live in the soil and feed on roots or tubers of the potato.
On the European mainland, E. cucumeris and E. papa were detected for the first time in Portugal in 2008 as the cause of symptoms that have been known there for some time. Meanwhile, all potato growing areas in Portugal are regarded as infested areas. The beetle has also spread to adjacent areas in northern Spain (Galicia and Asturias). Individual demarcated areas are located in the south of Spain in Andalusia.
What are the routes of introduction and how do they spread?
The greatest risk of the introduction of Epitrix is posed by the introduction of potato tubers from infested areas. In particular, if soil adheres to the potatoes, infestation can easily be overlooked. Since seed potatoes get directly into the soil, the risk is particularly high, but also with table potatoes a natural spread of the pest to potato plants is possible with improper disposal: the name 'Erdfloh' indicates the ability of the adult beetles to jump if they are disturbed. Thus shorter distances (e.g. from field to field) can be overcome.
What is being done to prevent the introduction and spread of the virus?
The import of potatoes from those North, Central and South American countries in which the four Epitrix species occur is prohibited.
The implementing decision (EU) 2012/270 adopted further strict measures to protect the Union against the introduction and spread of Epitrix. These include rigorous rules for the import of potatoes from other third countries as well as for introduction from demarcated areas in Spain and Portugal. In Austria, the BAES carries out import controls on potatoes; in addition, monitoring is carried out in the provinces for the early detection of a possible source of infestation.
Further information on the infested areas in Europe can be found here:
How can an infestation of Epitrix be detected?
The damage can easily be assigned to the genus Epitrix on the basis of the looped feeding passages of the larvae on the potato surface. Domestic ground fleas do not cause any damage to potato tubers. The larvae are 5 mm large and have a brown head capsule. The beetles themselves are approx. 2mm in size, monochrome black and feed on the leaves, where they can cause the pitting food typical of earth fleas. In the North American species Epitrix tuberi, the larvae also penetrate the potato.
Identification of beetles and larvae at species level is difficult. Please report suspicious cases to the responsible plant protection service in your federal state.
Although the beetles also feed on other plant species of the nightshade family, the potato is the only species to suffer economic damage. While pitting on the leaves is usually insignificant, the value of the tubers is reduced by the potato's pitting activity. The damage of the Epitrix species occurring in Europe is limited to the surface of the tuber. The species E. tuberis, which so far only occurs in North America, causes deeper holes in the tuber, which are still visible even after peeling.
Due to the current distribution area of the Epitrix species in North America, it must be assumed that the pest can also colonise the Austrian climate and poses a risk for potato cultivation, especially as it is difficult to control the larvae due to their hidden way of life in the soil. As the adult beetles also overwinter in the soil, extinction is no longer possible after settlement has taken place.
Where can I find more information about Epitrix?
AGES information on potato earth fleas: http://www.ages.at/themen/schaderreger/
General information and risk assessment of EPPO: https://gd.eppo.int/taxon/EPIXSI