Do Leafhoppers Bite? Uncovering the Truth About These Pests

folder_openHemiptera, Insecta
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Leafhoppers are a large and diverse family of insects that can be found in various environments around the world. They are small, sap-sucking creatures that use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to extract plant juices. Although they may look similar to cicadas, they are generally much smaller and usually measure between one-eighth to one-fourth inch in length.

These insects are more of a nuisance to plants than they are to humans, as they do not possess any mouthparts capable of biting or stinging. Instead, leafhoppers use their specialized mouthparts to pierce plants and consume sap, potentially causing damage to their host plants. It’s important to note that leafhoppers do not pose a direct threat to humans or animals.

Understanding Leafhoppers

Physical Characteristics

Leafhoppers are small, elongated insects that come in various colors like yellow, green, and gray. Some of their key features include:

  • Size between 1/8 to 1/2 inch
  • Wedge-shaped and somewhat triangular
  • May have color patterns

Behavior

These insects are known for their hopping capabilities. They quickly jump and fly away when disturbed. Leafhoppers use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to suck out plant sap, excreting a sticky waste product called honeydew.

Lifecycle

Leafhoppers go through three stages of development: egg, nymph, and adult. As they progress through each stage, nymphs resemble the adult form but lack wings. Adults range between one-eighth to one-fourth inch in length.

Do Leafhoppers Bite?

Feeding Habits

Leafhoppers are insects in the family Cicadellidae, and they have distinctive feeding habits. They consume plant sap using their piercing-sucking mouthparts1. Commonly found in a variety of colors like brown, gray, green, or yellow, these insects feed on a wide range of plants2. Although leafhoppers do not directly bite humans for nourishment, they can cause some discomfort in specific situations.

Impact on Humans

Though leafhoppers do not bite humans like mosquitoes or ticks, they are capable of biting. However, such occurrences are rare and usually accidental. A leafhopper bite may cause temporary pain3, but they are medically harmless and do not transmit diseases to humans4. Therefore, their impact on humans is minimal and not a significant concern.

Pros and Cons of Leafhoppers:

Pros:

  • An important part of the ecosystem
  • Help control the population of certain plant species

Cons:

  • Can damage plants through feeding
  • Capable of transmitting plant diseases5

Leafhoppers and Plant Damage

Symptoms of Infestation

Leafhoppers can cause significant damage to plants, including yellowing and dwarfing of plants, distorted foliage, and the abnormal production of shoots. Here are common symptoms:

  • Yellowness on leaves
  • Leaf curling
  • Stunted growth

Vulnerable Plant Species

Leafhoppers feed on a wide variety of plants, and some species are more vulnerable than others. Examples of impacted plants include:

  • Grass
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes

Comparison Table

Plant Species Damage Caused by Leafhoppers
Grass Stunted growth, yellowing
Carrots Leaf curling, stunted growth
Celery Yellowing, leaf curling
Lettuce Stunted growth, yellowing
Potatoes Distorted foliage, leaf curling

Keep in mind that early detection and treatment can help to reduce the damage caused by leafhoppers on plants.

Controlling Leafhoppers

Organic Methods

Controlling leafhoppers without chemicals can be done by using various organic methods. Some effective practices include:

  • Intercropping: Planting different crops alongside each other to create a less favorable environment for leafhoppers.
  • Natural predators: Encouraging beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps to feed on leafhoppers and their nymphs.
  • Physical barriers: Using row covers or netting to protect plants from infestation.

Chemical Control

When organic methods are insufficient, chemical control can be considered. One effective chemical treatment is carbaryl, a broad-spectrum insecticide. However, carbaryl has some drawbacks, which should be considered before use:

Pros:

  • Effective against a wide range of pests, including leafhoppers

Cons:

  • Can harm beneficial insects and pollinators
  • May leave chemical residue on plants and in the environment

When using carbaryl or any other chemical control, it’s crucial to follow label instructions and apply only as needed to minimize potential harm.

Method Effectiveness Impact on Environment Ease of Application
Organic Moderate Low Easy
Chemical (Carbaryl) High Moderate Moderate

Remember to choose the appropriate method based on your specific situation, and always prioritize organic methods to reduce potential risks to the environment and other organisms.

Comparison to Other Pests

Leafhoppers vs. Thrips

Leafhoppers and thrips are two common types of pests that can cause damage to various plants. Let’s compare their essential characteristics and the ways they affect plants.

  • Size: Leafhoppers are typically less than 1/6-inch in size, whereas thrips are even tinier, usually between 0.5 to 1.5 millimeters.
  • Appearance: Leafhoppers are usually light-colored or brown and slightly wedge-shaped, while thrips have slender bodies with fringed wings.

Here’s a comparison table to highlight the differences between leafhoppers and thrips:

Feature Leafhoppers Thrips
Size Less than 1/6-inch 0.5 to 1.5 millimeters
Damage to Plants Sucking plant sap, vectoring diseases Feeding on plant cells, vectoring diseases

Apart from the differences mentioned above, their feeding behaviors also vary:

  • Leafhoppers: They feed on plant sap, using their piercing and sucking mouthparts. This feeding can cause yellowing, curling, and stunting of plants. Some leafhopper species can also transmit diseases such as Aster yellows or Xylella fastidiosa, further harming the infected plants.
  • Thrips: These pests feed on the cells of plants, creating a scraping or rasping injury. This damage may cause silvery scars, deformations, and premature aging of leaves or flowers. Thrips can also transmit plant viruses, exacerbating the damage done to the affected plants.

Despite the differences, both leafhoppers and thrips are known to cause significant damage to various crops and ornamental plants, making them common concerns for gardeners and farmers alike. However, their small size and unique feeding behaviors make controlling these pests a challenge. It is vital to identify the presence of these pests early and implement effective pest control measures to minimize their impact on your plants.

Footnotes

  1. University of Maryland Extension

  2. Leafhopper – Texas A&M University

  3. Leafhopper – Texas A&M University

  4. Managing Pests in Gardens: Vegetables: Invertebrates: Leafhoppers—UC IPM

  5. Leafhopper FAQ – Dietrich Leafhopper Lab – University of Illinois

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Broad Headed Sharpshooter

 

Subject: Whats that bug?
Location: Nashville, TN
August 4, 2012 2:22 pm
Mr Bugman,
This lil bug was on my corn. What is it?
Thanks!
Signature: Jen

Broad Headed Sharpshooter

Dear Jen,
This is a Broad Headed Sharpshooter,
Oncometopia orbona, and though BugGuide does not list the plants upon which it is known to feed, if you are finding significant numbers of them on your corn, we expect they might be doing significant damage.  Planthoppers and Sharpshooters with their piercing and sucking mouthparts can initially damage plants because they take valuable fluids from young shoots by feeding on sap, but some species can also spread viruses and other pathogens to the plants they feed upon.

Wow! Thanks for the quick reply. This was the first one ive noticed… Ill be watching for more. Too pretty to hurt 🙁
Thanks for the help!
Jen

Letter 2 – Broadheaded Sharpshooter

 

Mysterious psychedelic bug
Location: North Carolina
January 13, 2011 9:56 pm
Hello, I made two interesting discoveries in my back yard a few years ago: while I was gardening, I came across a small pot plant that appeared to be growing wild in an overgrown corner of my property. Even more curious was the fact that the plant was covered with a dozen or so of these beautiful, brightly colored insects that I have never seen before or since. I managed to take one photo before the bugs scattered, but they were very active and it was difficult to find one that would stay put for long enough to photograph. Can you identify this insect? I am very curious. (the pot plant went into the compost pile, by the way.)
Signature: Psychedelic bug finder

Broad-Headed Sharpshooter

Dear Psychedelic bug finder,
You have found a Broad-Headed Sharpshooter,
Oncometopia orbona, which according to BugGuide is “The only common, widely-distributed member of this genus in the Eastern US (per Dr Andy Hamilton’s comment).”  Sharpshooters are Leafhoppers, and though many are brightly colored, rather pretty insects, they are also considered to be problematic insects in the garden.  Because they have sucking mouthparts, when they are numerous can cause damage to young shoots on plants by sucking the juices from tender stems.  Also, they might spread viral infections to plants.

Letter 3 – Aggregation of Unknown Red Hemipterans in Brazil

 

Red-orange bugs by the thousands in Southeastern Brazil, 800 m. asl
Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 5:01 AM
Our garden in Petropolis (Rio de Janeiro, Southeastern Brazil, 22º22’S 43º06’W), in the Serra do Mar, about 800 meters asl) is now filled with tens of thousands of these little red-orange bugs, with size varying from one millimeter to a centimeter. They apparently do not cause any damage to the plants, but seem to be associated with the red fruits of a nearby tree, which are all over the ground at this time of the year.
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro
Serra do Mar, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (22S43W)

Unknown Nymphs from Brazil
Unknown Nymphs from Brazil

Hello Eduardo,
You were quite accurate in calling these bugs. They appear to be immature Hemipterans, probably True Bugs. Since they are immature, they may change in appearance as they mature. Mature Hemipterans usually have wings. There are many North American species of Hemipterans that form large aggregations like the ones depicted in your image. One of the most common is the Boxelder Bug. We are going to post your images in the hope that one of our readers can locate an accurate identification for you.

Hemipteran Aggregation
Hemipteran Aggregation

Many immature True Bugs are quite similar in appearance and it may be very difficult to get an exact species identification without seeing an adult insect.

Hemipteran Aggregation
Hemipteran Aggregation

Update: Aggregation of Unknown Red Hemipterans in Brazil
Tue, Feb 24, 2009 at 3:26 PM
Hi Daniel:
Hemipteran nymphs are always difficult to identify, but I believe the ones posted by Eduardo are probably in the family Lygaeidae (chinch bugs and seed bugs). They really look very similar to early instar Large Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus), which range from the southern USA to Brazil. I don’t think that that’s quite it, however, for a variety of reasons (no mention of any sort of milkweed; the larger juveniles would be showing some black markings; Eduardo’s nymphs clearly have white-tipped antennae). It could be some other Oncopeltus species or it could be a related species – there are plenty to choose from in Brazil. Regards.
Karl
http://davesgarden.com/guides/bf/showimage/995/

Letter 4 – Black Gum Leafhoppers from Australia

 

Subject: bugs in my eucalyptus
Location: Ballarat Australia
February 25, 2017 9:57 pm
I found a cluster of these bugs in one of the eucalyptus trees at my house. They are about 1 cm long and jump / fly when touched – though one did crawl happily over my hand. They don’t seem to bite. Further investigation found about 40 smaller ones – similar legs and body colour – but no wings. I can’t see what they are eating – but if they are likely to eat too much of the tree, I’ll need to do something. So, I’d love to know what they are.
Signature: Kerry

Black Gum Leafhoppers

Dear Kerry,
Thanks to the Brisbane Insect site, we believe we have identified your insects as Black Gum Leafhoppers in the Tribe Eurymelini.  According to the site:  “The Eurymelini are only found on eucalypts, so their common name Gum-leafhoppers. They are brightly coloured or predominantly black.”  We are reluctant to provide a species name as many members of the tribe look similar. 
Eurymela bakeri which is pictured on the New South Wales Government site looks very close, but Eurymela distincta, which is also pictured on the New South Wales Government site looks even more similar.  The site advises:  “Caution Many of the insects depicted on these pages are outwardly similar and you should not use photographs as the sole means of identification. These pages form part of a scientific key which will assist a trained entomologist to identify the species accurately.”  The latter species is also pictured on Jungle Dragon.  All Leafhoppers have mouths designed to pierce and suck fluids from plants, and if they are plentiful and lacking in natural predators, they might pose a health risk to weakened plants, however since they are a native species for you and they are feeding on a native plant, we don’t believe they will cause serious harm to your trees unless they are already stressed because of drought or disease.

Black Gum Leafhoppers

Thank you so much for that.they are rather  cute and the tree looks ok.
Just have to watch them. Kerry

Letter 5 – Blue-Green Sharpshooter

 

Please Identify
Location: San Diego, CA
March 2, 2012 2:01 pm
Hello bugman. Will you kindly tell me what to call this little thing? He is here in San Diego, CA on my butterfly bush. He is very small but very brightly colored. His little yellow legs are so very pretty.
Signature: Thank you, Teddi

Blue-Green Sharpshooter

Dear Teddi,
Your insect is one of the Leafhoppers known as Sharpshooters.  We have identified your individual as a Blue-Green Sharpshooter,
Hordnia atropunctata, thanks to the comprehensive archive on BugGuide which states:  “vector of Pierce’s disease of grape in coastal CA.”  Because Leafhoppers have sucking mouthparts, they are capable of spreading plant viruses from plant to plant. 

Letter 6 – Blue-Striped Leafhopper from South Africa

 

Subject:  Black & blue striped flying insect
Geographic location of the bug:  Durban, KZN, South Africa
Date: 12/15/2017
Time: 05:03 AM EDT
Hey bugman, I took a pic of this beautiful flying bug chilling on some mint leaves with his homie.
Is he a goodie or a baddie? What’s his name?
How you want your letter signed:  Farmer Budge

Blue-Striped Leafhopper

Dear Farmer Budge,
This is a Leafhopper in the family Cicidellidae, and it looks exactly like the individual pictured on Earth Touch News Network, but alas, it is not identified to the species level.  We believe it might be the Blue-Striped Leafhopper,
Poecilocarda cosmopolita, which is pictured on Photographs from South Africa.  The species is also pictured on iSpot.

Ok cool, thanks bugman. Just to be clear though, these guys definitely didn’t jump. They will only fly away when disturbed.
Thanks again.

Letter 7 – Bluegreen Sharpshooter

 

Leafjumper?
Location: Tacoma, WA
December 12, 2010 4:23 pm
I found this beautiful creature on my rose bush.
Signature: T Drivas

Bluegreen Sharpshooter

Dear T Drivas,
This pretty Leafhopper is a Bluegreen Sharpshooter,
Graphocephala atropunctata.  It is a western species, and according to BugGuide, it feeds on willow and grape.

Bluegreen Sharpshooter

Letter 8 – Brasilian Leafhopper

 

Help to ID this cicadellidae
Pictures take in differents time.
Danilo Rivas
Brasil

Hi Danilo,
You already know this is in the Leafhopper Family Cicadellidae, and we really aren’t going to be able to help after that since we don’t own a guide to Brasilian insects. Your photos are quite amazing and since there is a relationship between the hoppers and the ant, we are guessing honeydew is secreted by the Leafhoppers.

I am a cuban Molecular Biologist working in Brasil…. I can not found yet any help in Brasil to ID my cicadellidae pictures that is the reason to contact you. I am waiting for the brazilian bug specialist opinion…but in this country the interest for the nature is really low…. Today I make more photos…of the baby group and you can see that some babies have some (black) colour lines longitudinal in the body (just the older babies…) The cicadellidae reproduction was in a Ceiba pentandra tree, a very comun tree in my country. Thank you for your interest.
Danilo

Update from Eric Eaton:
“the topmost images of the Brazilian leafhoppers are a species that is probably NOT in the Cicadellidae. There are several entire families of Heteroptera in the tropics that have no representatives in North America.”

Update (01/16/2006)
Hello Daniel
May be the real ID is treehoppers…Fam: Aetalionidae, Gen: Aetalion. I found a work of Douglas W. Tallamy (photos of Preston Mafham)”Child care among the insects”, and in that the pictures are really similar to my pictures, ant-mutualist, etc…. try to find the paper in the internet, and please, contact Eric Eaton in order to confirm that. Thank you
Danilo Rivas

Letter 9 – Broad Headed Sharpshooter

 

Subject: Bug ID
Location: Homosassa Springs, FL
July 27, 2013 8:48 pm
I encountered this little bug at a local Butterfly Garden.
Signature: m flanagan

Broad Headed Sharpshooter
Broad Headed Sharpshooter

Dear m flanagan,
Your Leafhopper is
Oncometopia orbona, commonly called a Broad Headed Sharpshooter.

Letter 10 – Broad Headed Sharpshooter

 

Subject: Cicadella?
Location: Western Maryland
July 11, 2017 8:06 am
Found this beautiful little guy on my catalpa tree while I was admiring the color variations of the gorgeous catalpa worms. The closest picture I could find was of cicadella sp. but not sure if they are found in this part of the world.
Signature: Insect lover

Broadheaded Sharpshooter

Dear Insect lover,
Cicadella is a genus of Leafhoppers found in Europe.  This is a Broadheaded Sharpshooter, Oncometopia orbona, another species of Leafhopper.  We just posted an image of a Broadheaded Leafhopper from Virginia yesterday.

Wow! Thanks for the quick response! I found the ID of the sharpshooter on your site AFTER I submitted by request. Do you get a lot of requests about the catalpa worms? They are impressive and I hope people don’t kill too many of them as they are important for fertilizing the tree.

Hello again Insect Lover.  By Catalpa Worm, do you mean the larvae of the Catalpa Sphinx?  Please submit images and we will post them, though please use our standard form at Ask What’s That Bug? for each new submission.

Letter 11 – Broadheaded Sharpshooter

 

Subject: pink and yellow treehopper? fly? moth?
Location: Ashland, Virginia
July 30, 2013 10:59 am
hi bugman, I found this pretty, showy little fly on a basil leaf and have had very little luck figuring out what it could be. I searched a number of different keywords but with no true match. it has similar traits to a number of flying insects, mainly it looked like a treehopper to me, but also a bit like a moth. I’m not an expert by any means but feel i have a basic gardeners knowledge of insects in the area; yet this dude left me totally stumped. I love the beautiful deep magenta on the wings and below the head. any ideas?
Signature: kasey

Broadheaded Sharpshooter
Broadheaded Sharpshooter

Hi Kasey,
The Broadheaded Sharpshooter,
Oncometopia orbona, does not always have this lovely magenta coloration, but there is a matching image on BugGuide that illustrates the magenta form.

thank you! I wouldn’t have even known to search for that term. how interesting!

Letter 12 – Broadheaded Sharpshooter

 

Subject: tiny yellow & blue bug
Location: Wesley Chapel, Florida
March 15, 2016 11:50 am
Hi guys,
I saw this little guy flying around my garden today!
What kind of bug do I have here?
Thanks in advance!
Michele
Signature: Thanks, Michele

Broadheaded Sharpshooter
Broadheaded Sharpshooter

Dear Michele,
This is a Broadheaded Sharpshooter,
Oncometopia orbona, a species with sucking mouthparts that feeds on the life-nourishing fluids in plants.  For that reason they are not considered welcome in the garden.

Letter 13 – Broadheaded Sharpshooter

 

Subject: Little unknown beetle
Location: Virginia Beach, VA
July 9, 2017 2:37 pm
Got a close up of this little dude. Maybe 12-15MM long, and jumps. Any ideas?
Signature: Thanks!

Broadheaded Sharpshooter

This is NOT a beetle.  It is a Leafhopper commonly called a Broadheaded Sharpshooter which you can verify on BugGuide.

Letter 14 – Broadheaded Sharpshooter

 

Subject: What is this insect?
Location: Southeastern Pennsylvania
August 5, 2017 1:01 pm
Found it on my deck on August 5th. It appears to have 2 pairs of wings (lower pair membranous) which it holds open over its back, and an iridescent gold body. Length is about 1/2 inch long. I don’t know where to start looking because I’m not sure to what group it belongs. Thanks!
Signature: Nancy B

Broadheaded Sharpshooter

Dear Nancy,
This is a Leafhopper known as a Sharpshooter, and we are quite certain your individual is a Broadheaded Sharpshooter.  Your image capturing the wings in this position is awesome, and not something we found in the 13 pages of images we searched on BugGuide.  Here is a nice BugGuide image with the wings flat.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Leafhopper

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Heather Acosta
    May 30, 2021 9:59 am

    They are very pretty, but I would like to know whether there is a good way (preferably organic) of removing them.

    Reply

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