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Cottonwood Leaf Beetle (Chrysomela scripta)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Cottonwood Leaf Beetle

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True to its name, the Cottonwood Leaf Beetle is found in groves and forests filled with cottonwood trees so its caterpillar can feast.

Updated: 01/26/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Cottonwood Leaf Beetles have similar coloring to the pesky Colorado Potato Beetle, but their very different pattern makes it easy to differentiate between the two. The Cottonwood Leaf Beetle is yellow and black. Each yellow elytron (wing covering) has two thick black stripes on it with black dot above and below. The side edges of the wings are orange. The sides of the thorax are also orange, each with a single black dot in the center.

Adults are active in the spring when females begin laying groups of yellow, tubular fertilized eggs on the new leaf growth of cottonwood and willow trees. The larval caterpillars will feed on the leaves until they develop into pupae. They cocoon themselves right-side-up on leaves, and emerge as adults in a relatively short span of time. In warmer regions, as many as 4 or 5 generations can be produced each year.

Caterpillars are yellow with segments and side ridges that almost resemble the texture of alligators. Each ridged segment has a black dot and the tips share a black line that runs from head to rear. They chew the green parts of a leaf, leaving behind the veins, giving the leaf a skeleton-like appearance. Large numbers of Cottonwood Leaf Beetle caterpillars can defoliate young trees, harming their health and growth. Removing weeds in the vicinity of the trees where adults overwinter can help reduce the amount of reproduction that occurs in the spring. Spraying chemical insecticides on the affected tree can also control populations of this beetle.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Patterned insect icon
Striped or banded insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Coleoptera
        Family: Chrysomelidae
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          Genus: Chrysomela
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            Species: scripta

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Chrysomela scripta
Category: Beetle
Size (Adult; Length): 5mm to 9mm (0.19" to 0.35")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: yellow, black, orange
Descriptors: stripes, dots, potato, flying

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 5mm (0.2in) and 9mm (0.4in)
Lo: 5mm
Md: 7mm
Hi: 9mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Cottonwood Leaf Beetle may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Cottonwood Leaf Beetle. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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