Leafhoppers are small insects that can cause significant damage to your garden and plants. These pests belong to the family Cicadellidae and use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to extract sap from plants, leading to yellowing, stunted growth, and even death in some cases. They come in various species, but all can pose a threat to the health of your garden.
Getting rid of leafhoppers isn’t always easy, but with some simple strategies, you can protect your plants and keep these pests at bay. Early detection is crucial in controlling their population, and you should always keep an eye on your plants for the first signs of leafhopper damage. The adults are typically 1/8 to 1/4 inch long, and their nymphs are smaller, making them harder to spot.
There are several methods available to tackle a leafhopper infestation, ranging from natural predators to insecticides. Determining the right approach for your garden will ultimately depend on your personal preference and the extent of the infestation. Knowing the pros and cons of each method can help you choose the best course of action.
Identifying Leafhoppers and Their Damage
Leafhoppers are small insects belonging to the family Cicadellidae within the order Hemiptera. Adult leafhoppers typically range between one-eighth to one-fourth inch in length and have a slightly wedge-shaped body. Their color varies, but many common species have light or brown coloring. One distinguishing feature is their hind legs, which have one or more rows of small spines on the tibiae (“shins”). Nymphs, the immature stage of leafhoppers, are smaller and often found on the undersides of leaves.
Some key characteristics of leafhoppers include:
- Small size (one-eighth to one-fourth inch long)
- Wedge-shaped body
- Light or brown coloring
- Hind legs with small spines on tibiae
Leafhopper Damage Signs
Leafhoppers cause damage by using their piercing-sucking mouthparts to extract plant sap. This can result in several types of injury to the plants, including leaf curl, discoloration, and stunted growth. One of the most noticeable signs of a leafhopper infestation is the presence of honeydew, a shiny and sticky waste product they excrete. In addition, some leafhopper species are vectors of plant pathogens, further damaging the plants they infest.
Some common signs of leafhopper damage include:
- Leaf curl
- Stunted growth
- Presence of honeydew
- Plant diseases caused by pathogens transmitted by leafhoppers
Preventing Leafhopper Infestations
Regularly inspect your plants for signs of leafhoppers, such as yellowing on leaves, flowers, and stems. Maintaining a clean garden can also help to reduce leafhopper infestations. Make sure to remove any debris and eliminate weeds, as they can serve as host plants for leafhoppers. Floating row covers can provide an additional layer of protection for your plants during the growing season.
Using natural substances such as diatomaceous earth and neem oil can also help to control leafhoppers without harming beneficial insects or pollinators.
Choose plants that are less attractive to leafhoppers, such as beans, vegetables, and roses. Replace susceptible plants with more resistant varieties. Check with your local gardening center or extension office for recommendations on the best plant selections for your area. Also, avoid planting ornamental plants, such as those that belong to the Graphocephala coccinea family, as they are particularly susceptible to leafhopper infestations.
Some resistant plants for your consideration:
Encouraging beneficial insects, such as lacewings, minute pirate bugs, and predatory spiders, can be an effective biological control method for managing leafhopper infestations. These insects help control leafhopper populations by feeding on them or their eggs.
Some natural enemies of leafhoppers include:
- Minute pirate bugs
- Predatory spiders
To attract these insects, plant a variety of flowers and shrubs that serve as food and habitat for these beneficial species. Keep a consistent water source to support insect populations, and avoid using insecticides that may harm these natural predators.
Identifying and Monitoring Leafhopper Populations
One of the primary ways to identify leafhopper populations is through visual inspection. Both adult and nymph leafhoppers can cause damage to plants by feeding on their sap. Some symptoms of leafhopper infestations include:
- Spotting or stippling on leaves
- Stunted growth or curled leaves
- Transmission of diseases, such as aster yellows bacteria
Leafhoppers come in various colors and sizes, like the redbanded leafhopper, which has bright red and blue (or green) markings.
Another method to monitor leafhoppers is by using sticky traps. These traps can help to:
- Determine the size of the leafhopper population
- Identify the different species present
- Track the increase or decrease in their numbers over time
Sticky traps work by attracting adult bugs, which then get caught on the trap’s sticky surface.
Monitoring Generations and Life Cycle
Understanding the life cycle of leafhoppers can help with effective management strategies. Key points to know about their life cycle include:
- Egg-laying by adult leafhoppers on plant tissues
- Nymphs hatching from eggs and feeding on plant sap
- Multiple generations occurring throughout the growing season
Monitoring multiple generations is crucial for effective pest control, as certain stages (e.g., eggs or nymphs) may be more susceptible to control methods or natural predators.
Examples of leafhopper natural predators include:
- Parasitic wasps
- Other beneficial insects
These predators are essential to maintaining a balanced ecosystem and minimizing damage caused by leafhoppers.
How to Compare Leafhopper Species
When trying to identify leafhopper species, consider the following table for a comparison of different characteristics:
|Red, blue (or green), yellow
|Green or brown
|Grapevines, fruit crops
Understanding the differences between leafhopper species can assist with efforts to monitor and manage their populations effectively.
Effective Leafhopper Control Methods
Insecticidal Soap and Other Insecticides
Insecticidal soaps are a popular method for controlling leafhoppers, as they only target soft-bodied insects like leafhoppers, making them a safer option for beneficial insects. For example:
- Pro: Insecticidal soaps are safer for beneficial insects
- Con: May require reapplication
Other chemical options include pyrethrins, which are derived from chrysanthemum flowers, and carbaryl, a broad-spectrum insecticide. Both can help control leafhoppers, but remember:
- Pro: They are effective against a variety of pests
- Con: Broad-spectrum insecticides can harm beneficial insects
Introducing beneficial insects into your garden can help manage leafhopper populations. Examples include:
- Assassin bugs
These insects prey on leafhoppers and help control infestations. Also, ants indirectly help by feeding on the honeydew produced by leafhoppers, reducing the likelihood of mold.
Another natural method is using sticky traps, which can be placed around plants known to attract leafhoppers, such as potatoes, grapes, and apples.
Professional Pest Control
If your garden or farm has severe leafhopper damage or infestation and you have unsuccessfully tried other methods, consider hiring a professional pest control company. Professionals have access to a wider range of insecticides and can help identify the specific leafhopper species causing the problem, such as the beet leafhopper or two-spotted leafhopper, and take appropriate action. Remember:
- Pro: Professionals are knowledgeable and well-equipped
- Con: This option can be more expensive
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 – Glassy Winged Sharpshooter on Marijuana Plant
Subject: Cannibis Eater?
Location: Central Calif, USA (city of Bakersfield)
July 29, 2014 7:59 pm
We have found these 4 winged “flies” on our cannabis plant. Are they insect or plant eaters?
So far they haven’t eaten me!
Your images are very tiny and not of the highest quality, so we enlarged them and enhanced them for posting, but we prefer high resolution, high quality images for identification purposes. This appears to be some species of Leafhopper or Sharpshooter, and there are many agricultural pests in the family. Leafhoppers suck the juices from plants, and some species are known to spread viral infections to plants. Our best guess is that this is a Glassy Winged Sharpshooter, Homalodisca vitripennis, based on this BugGuide image. According to BugGuide, it is: “A major vector of Pierce’s disease on grape. Usually not a serious pest within its native range, this sp. was introduced into so. California, where it has become a serious threat to viticulture.” We attempted to locate any documentation on the relationship between Glassy Winged Sharpshooters and Marijuana, and we did find a different species of Sharpshooter feeding on Marijuana on the FloraFinder site. The University of California Davis Integrated Pest Management site has an excellent article on the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter, and though we scanned it, we could not find a reference to marijuana.
Letter 2 – Green Leafhopper from the UK
Subject: Lovely green wing cases
Geographic location of the bug: Sale, Manchester, uk
Time: 03:13 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hi bugman,
Thought you might appreciate these lovely shades of green as much as me! I’ve seen these creatures before but usually in brown or bright green. They jump like fleas so I’ve called them hoppers in the past but I’ve no idea what they usually go by. I’ve noticed they hatch out of what looks like blobs of spit on grass. I’m also interested to know if they are a pest in our veg patch or pest control. It would be great if you could shed some light on it for me. Bug obviously came in from the garden in July.
How you want your letter signed: Beth J.
This is a Leafhopper in the family Cicadellidae, and it is green, and when we finally identified it as Cicadella viridis on NatureSpot, we learned the common name is the obvious Green Leaf-Hopper. According to NatureSpot: “Length 6-8 mm. A large and eye-catching species. The bicoloured pronotum (yellow at the front and green at the rear) is distinctive. The forewings of the female are bright turquoise green, but those of the male are much darker blue-purple and may even be blackish.” Additional images can be found on British Bugs.
Letter 3 – Grand Diable from France
Location: Central France
October 13, 2013 6:57 am
I took this photo on my terrace in September 2009 and have never known what the bug is. A friend narrowed it down to a tree hopper, but after looking through masses of photos on the web, I cannot find another one like it. Any suggestions? The bug is approximately 2cm in length.
We aren’t fully convinced that this is a Treehopper. It might be a Leafhopper of some other free-living Hemipteran. We will attempt to research its identity for you. Upon searching some more, we found a photo by Melvyn Yeo on Deviant Art that is only identified as a Flat Headed Leafhopper, and it looks very much like your creature, however, there is no scientific name nor is there a location indicated.
Correction Courtesy of Karl
Hi Daniel and Jacqueline:
Your true bug is the rather atypical Leafhopper (Cicadellidae: Ledrinae), Ledra aurita. The common names include Horned Leafhopper, Eared Leafhopper and Grand Diable (in French). Apparently they are most commonly associated with oak trees. Regards. Karl
Letter 4 – Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter
Subject: Borer Maybe?
Geographic location of the bug: Los Angeles
Time: 04:33 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Can anyone tell me what this bug is called and how to get rid of it? It’s super fast and skirts across branches to dodge you when you try to get a good look. It also sits on the tree and drips piss or something constantly so it looks like mist falling down. I’m pretty sure these things are killing a tree I planted recently.
How you want your letter signed: JV
This is not a Borer. This appears to be a Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter, Homalodisca vitripennis, an invasive species that feeds by sucking fluids from plants. Though large infestations might cause twigs to wilt or wither, there is a bigger threat of diseases spread by Sharpshooters. According to BugGuide: “A major vector of Pierce’s disease on grape. Usually not a serious pest within its native range, southeastern US. This species was accidentally introduced into so. California in the early 1990s, probably with ornamental or agricultural stock. There, it has become a serious threat to viticulture.”
Letter 5 – Glassy Winged Sharpshooter
Subject: 1cm insect with 4 wings (9/15/19,6pm)
Geographic location of the bug: Riverside, California
Time: 09:18 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Found this bug sitting on my indoor bamboo plant,it would scurry outta my sight like a squirrel on a tree. It looks like it has 2 eyes on either side but the underside that is yellow resembles the texture a flys eye.
How you want your letter signed: V
This is a Glassy Winged Sharpshooter, Homalodisca vitripennis, and according to BugGuide: “A major vector of Pierce’s disease on grape. Usually not a serious pest within its native range, southeastern US. This species was accidentally introduced into so. California in the early 1990s, probably with ornamental or agricultural stock. There, it has become a serious threat to viticulture.” According to Featured Creatures, the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter: “feeds in the xylem, the water conducting tissue of both herbaceous and woody plants. Its known host range is vast, including more than 100 plant species (Turner and Pollard). Preferred plants depend on the season and locality, but, in general, the preferred species include crape myrtle, citrus, and holly. Glassy-winged sharpshooters tend to feed on last-year’s growth and meristematic growth (Mizell and French), and excrete copious amounts of liquid as they feed. The sharpshooters ingest 100 to 300 times their dry body weight in xylem fluid per day, and in large populations, their high volume of excreta (“leafhopper rain”) can become a problem, leaving white residue on leaves.” We have received reports of the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter on Cannabis, including this submission by a regular contributor, Constant Gardener.
Letter 6 – Glassy Winged Sharpshooter and Buprestid
Subject: Unknown Flying Insect
Location: Reseda, Ca
June 19, 2016 8:52 pm
Hi, there are flying beetle like bugs that are eating a tree in our backyard. My dad started to notice them this year and doesn’t remember seeing then before. Please help!
Signature: Won Cho
Dear Won Cho,
You have two different insects here, in different orders. Two of them are Glassy Winged Sharpshooters that feed by sucking fluids from plants, and they do the most damage to new shoots. According to BugGuide: “A major vector of Pierce’s disease on grape. Usually not a serious pest within its native range, southeastern US. This species was accidentally introduced into so. California in the early 1990s, probably with ornamental or agricultural stock. There, it has become a serious threat to viticulture. The biggest problem is that it can spread the disease-causing bacterium Xylella fastidiosa.” According to the University of California Integrated Pest Management System site: “The real problem associated with glassy-winged sharpshooter, however, is that it can spread the disease-causing bacterium Xylella fastidiosa from one plant to another. This bacterium is the causal agent of devastating plant diseases such as Pierce’s disease of grape, oleander leaf scorch, almond leaf scorch and mulberry leaf scorch. Other diseases to landscape plants in California include sweet gum dieback and cherry plum leaf scorch. Outside of California, other strains of X. fastidiosa cause phony peach disease, plum leaf scald, leaf scorches in sycamore, elm, maple, and oak,and variegated citrus chlorosis, but these diseases have not been detected in California. It should be noted that the strain of X. fastidiosa that causes oleander leaf scorch will not cause Pierce’s disease in grapes and the strain of X. fastidiosa that causes mulberry leaf scorch does not cause disease in oleanders or grapes. At this time there is no cure for any of these diseases.” The other insect we can only identify to the family. It is a Metallic Borer Beetle in the family Buprestidae, and the larvae bore in the wood. They are generally very host specific. Telling us what tree is affected may help in further identifications.
Letter 7 – Glassy Winged Sharpshooter in Arizona
Subject L: What’s this?
Geographic location of the bug: Peoria, AZ
Time: 12:54 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Just wondering what kind of bug this is? Landed on my patio table, lived in Arizona my whole life and never seen one.
How you want your letter signed: Jenn
This is a Glassy Winged Sharpshooter and here is an image from BugGuide for comparison. According to BugGuide:
“A major vector of Pierce’s disease on grape. Usually not a serious pest within its native range, southeastern US. This species was accidentally introduced into so. California in the early 1990s, probably with ornamental or agricultural stock. There, it has become a serious threat to viticulture.
The biggest problem is that it can spread the disease-causing bacterium Xylella fastidiosa.
The most important biocontrols are egg-parasite wasps in the genus Gonatocerus. Spiders, assassin bugs, and praying mantis prey on the mobile forms.“
Letter 8 – Glassy Winged Sharpshooter on Cannabis
Subject: Glassy Winged Sharpshooter on my herb
Geographic location of the bug: Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
Time: 04:20 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Dear Bugman,
I missed you last growing season. I noticed a recent comment from Peter about Glassy Winged Sharpshooters on budding marijuana. I sent in a photo two years ago of a Green Lynx Spider eating a Glassy Winged Sharpshooter on one of my plants, but I have to do manual hunting of this unwanted visitor. I don’t like to use pesticides on my plants, so I catch the litter buggers and just squash them. They can be very difficult to catch though. Seems they have an uncanny ability to move to the other side of the stem when they are threatened.
How you want your letter signed: Constant Gardener
Dear Constant Gardener,
Thanks for sharing your tips to the manual control of unwanted insects on your crops. We are also thrilled to learn you do not use pesticides which can often kill beneficial insects as well as the targeted “pest” species.
Letter 9 – Glassywinged Sharpshooter
Subject: Help me identify this bug
July 7, 2017 10:13 pm
We get about 100 of these on our patio at night. They fly around like they are on drugs.
Signature: Thank you very much, adrianne
This Leafhopper is a Glassywinged Sharpshooter, Homalodisca vitripennis, and according to BugGuide the range is “se. US (TX-FL-NC-AR) & Mexico(1), introduced in sw. US (CA-AZ)” making it an invasive species in Southern California. BugGuide also remarks: “A major vector of Pierce’s disease on grape. Usually not a serious pest within its native range, southeastern US. This species was accidentally introduced into so. California in the early 1990s, probably with ornamental or agricultural stock. There, it has become a serious threat to viticulture.(2) The biggest problem is that it can spread the disease-causing bacterium Xylella fastidiosa.”