The paradox of successful invading species is that they are likely to be genetically depauperate compared to their source population. This study on Colorado potato beetles is one of the few studies of the genetic consequences of continent-scale invasion in an insect pest. Understanding gene flow, population structure and the potential for rapid evolution in native and invasive populations offers insights both into the dynamics of small populations that become successful invaders and for their management as pests. We used this approach to investigate the invasion of the Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) from North America to Europe. The beetles invaded Europe at the beginning of the 20th century and expanded almost throughout the continent in about 30 years. From the analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) markers, we found the highest genetic diversity in beetle populations from the central United States. The European populations clearly contained only a fraction of the genetic variability observed in North American populations. European populations show a significant reduction at nuclear markers (AFLPs) and are fixed for one mitochondrial haplotype, suggesting a single successful founder event. Despite the high vagility of the species and the reduction of genetic diversity in Europe, we found a similar, high level of population structure and low gene flow among populations on both continents. Founder events during range expansion, agricultural management with crop rotation, and selection due to insecticide applications are most likely the causes partitioning genetic diversity in this species.