Leafhoppers Life Cycle: Discover the Fascinating Journey of These Tiny Insects

Leafhoppers are fascinating insects belonging to the family Cicadellidae, which fall under the order Hemiptera. These tiny creatures, ranging between one-eighth to one-fourth inch in length, have a unique habit of using their piercing-sucking mouthparts to feed on plant sap.^[1^]

The life cycle of leafhoppers includes three distinct stages: egg, nymph, and adult. Female leafhoppers lay their eggs within leaf veins, shoots, or stems of host plants where the eggs are protected until they hatch. These insects can be found on a wide variety of plants, with some species being somewhat specific to their preferred host. Leafhoppers are known to complete their entire life cycle in approximately 4 weeks, depending on the species, and some may develop up to six generations per year.^[2^]

Leafhoppers play an essential role in the ecosystem, but they can also be harmful to certain plants due to their sap-sucking feeding habits. These creatures generate honeydew, a sticky, shiny waste product that is often a sign of their presence. Familiarizing oneself with the life cycle of leafhoppers can contribute to better understanding and possibly managing and controlling their populations to support healthy plant life.

Leafhoppers Overview

Species and Coloration

  • Leafhoppers are hopping insects found in the order Hemiptera and family Cicadellidae.
  • They exhibit various colors such as yellow, green, and gray.
  • Their bodies can be marked with color patterns distinguishable among different species.

Size and Description

  • Leafhoppers range in size from 1/8 to 1/2-inch, varying by species.
  • They have an elongated, wedge-shaped body that is somewhat triangular in cross-section.
  • Adult leafhoppers can jump and fly, making them mobile and efficient.

Hemiptera and Cicadellidae

  • Hemiptera is the order of insects that includes leafhoppers, belonging to the family Cicadellidae.
  • Cicadellids are sap-sucking insects that use piercing-sucking mouthparts to extract plant sap.
  • The life cycle of leafhoppers consists of three stages: egg, nymph, and adult.
Hemiptera Cicadellidae
Life cycle Three stages Egg, nymph, adult
Body shape Elongated Wedge-shaped and triangular
Size range 1/8 to 1/2-inch Varies by species
Coloration Various colors Yellow, green, gray, color patterns

These brief descriptions provide a general understanding of leafhoppers, their characteristics, and their classifications within the Hemiptera order and Cicadellidae family.

Life Cycle

Egg Development

Leafhoppers develop through a life cycle that includes a unique egg stage. Female leafhoppers insert their eggs into tender plant tissues, causing small, pimple-like wounds. Most species overwinter as eggs or adults, ensuring survival until the next season.

Nymph Stages

After eggs hatch, the wingless nymphs emerge and begin feeding on the host plant’s tender new growth. They develop through five increasingly larger instars (stages) before maturing into adults, without any pupal stage.

Key Nymph Characteristics:

  • Wingless
  • Develop through five instars
  • Feed on the underside of leaves

Adult Life

Adult leafhoppers are typically one-eighth to one-fourth inch long and feed on plant sap using their piercing-sucking mouthparts. Their life spans and generation times vary across species. Some leafhoppers produce only one generation per year, while others may have up to six generations. Adults are often seen on the underside of leaves and are attracted to lights.

Comparison Table: Life Cycle Stages

Stage Features Duration
Egg Inserted into plant tissues; may overwinter Varies
Nymph (Instar) Wingless; feed on tender growth; develop through 5 stages ~10 days
Adult Piercing-sucking mouthparts; produce multiple generations Varies

Feeding and Damage

Feeding Habits

Leafhoppers, belonging to the Cicadellidae family, are small and diverse jumping insects that feed on plant sap using their piercing-sucking mouthparts. Both nymphs and adults cause damage to plants by sucking out the essential nutrients from them. Some common types include the potato leafhopper, rose leafhopper, and six-spotted leafhopper. Their feeding habits directly impact the host plants, which can range from vegetables, fruit trees, flowers, to even grasses and shrubs.

Signs of Infestation

Some typical symptoms of leafhopper infestations are:

  • Stippling: Tiny, pale-colored specks on leaves and shoot tips
  • Yellowing: Leaves turn yellow due to lack of nutrients
  • Curling: Leaves may curl and turn brown

Infested plants may also become stunted, with honeydew residue on the underside of their leaves, which may attract other insects like ants. In some cases, leafhoppers can transmit plant diseases such as aster yellows, further affecting the plants’ growth and health.

Affected Plants

Plant Type Examples Leafhopper Species
Vegetables Potatoes, beans, lettuce Potato leafhopper (Empoasca fabae)
Fruit trees Pear, apple Pear psylla (Cacopsylla pyricola)
Grasses Lawn grasses Six-spotted leafhopper (Macrosteles fascifrons)
Shrubs and trees Oak, rose, aster Rose leafhopper (Edwardsiana rosae)

Leafhoppers have a wide range of host plants, but some plants are more susceptible to specific species than others. Proper identification and early detection can minimize the damage caused by these sap-feeding insects.

Management and Control

Natural Predators

Leafhoppers face several natural predators that help keep their populations in check. Some examples of predators that prey on leafhoppers include:

These predators can be encouraged to stay within an affected area by providing proper habitat and food sources.

Chemical Control

In cases of severe infestations, chemical control methods may be necessary. Insecticides and insecticidal soaps can both be effective in controlling leafhoppers. Here’s a comparison table of the two methods:

Insecticides Insecticidal Soaps
More aggressive in controlling leafhoppers Gentler on beneficial insects
Can harm non-target organisms Narrower range of effectiveness
Potentially hazardous to the environment Biodegradable and less harmful to the environment

Use chemical control options cautiously, as they may harm beneficial predators.

Cultural Control

Cultural control methods can also be employed to manage leafhopper populations. Some of these methods include:

  • Removing weeds, which can harbor leafhoppers and serve as an alternate food source
  • Checking the undersides of leaves for adult leafhoppers, their larvae, and wing pads
  • Using row covers to protect plants from leafhoppers
  • Avoiding the use of lights around plants, as they can attract leafhoppers
  • Taking preventative measures against tip burn, which can indicate a leafhopper infestation

Implementing these cultural control methods can help reduce leafhopper populations in affected areas and minimize damage to plants.

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 – Symbiosis: Ants and Leafhoppers

 

Mutualism: Ants & Leafhoppers!
Location:  Cherokee County, North Carolina
August 8, 2010 9:08 am
I first spotted these guys early on in spring of this year. At first they were on only a few stems of one locust sapling, but now, when these photos were taken, they’ve expanded to about six other saplings near their original location.
Earlier on in the year they were ”farming” small aphids as well as these little leafhoppers, but the aphids seem to have disappeared over the following months, and it seems that they’re tending the leafhoppers exclusively now.
It’s amazing to see how well the ants tend these little creatures. They divide the young ones from the old ones, and place the young ones on the newer growth while keeping the old ones on the thicker growth from the year before. Occasionally I saw an ant feeding by licking droplets(honeydew I suppose) that were excreted from the leafhopper’s posterior.
The ants guarded their herds quite well, and attacked just about any creature that strayed onto their branches. I conducted a little ”experiment” and managed to remove one of the leafhoppers without one immediately noticing. When the ant returned to the leafhopper’s original resting place and found that it was missing, it frantically ran about the stem and combed each nearby leaf. After about five minutes it met up with two other ants and they too ran around for about five minutes before giving up(the missing leafhopper in question escaped from my hand before I managed to put it back, unless something eats it I suppose it may return to the tree).
The locust saplings also hosted some sort of tiny black ants, but my less-than-stellar camera couldn’t zoom in quite enough. The large ants never seemed to notice them, and they appeared to be feeding on bits of locust sap at the base of the green stems.
Hopefully these little guys stay around for some time, they’re quite interesting to watch. After seeing these I’ve searched some other groups of locust saplings in the area, but this one small cluster seems to be the only one hosting these creatures.
Jacob

Symbiosis: Ants and Leafhoppers

Hi Jacob,
Thanks so much for providing your detailed observations on the symbiotic relationship between Ants and Leafhoppers.  Your observations regarding the frenzy over the vanished Leafhopper is especially interesting.  Here in Los Angeles, the symbiotic relationship between the Argentine Ants and Aphids and Leafhoppers is most problematic since the invasive exotic Ant species transports the sap sucking insects from host plant to host plant, spreading the infestation throughout the garden.  In these symbiotic relationships, both insects benefit.  The Ants eat the honeydew secreted by the sap suckers as your narrative observes, and the sap suckers benefit from protection as you also observed.

Symbiosis: Ants and Leafhoppers

Letter 2 – Spittlebug Nymphs from South Africa

 

Subject:  What in the world…
Geographic location of the bug:  Durban, South Africa
Date: 03/06/2019
Time: 10:58 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I was strolling through my garden when I came across these weird bugs. What are they and what are they doing? They are freaky, stuck together and bubbling!!
How you want your letter signed:  Ryan

Aggregation of unknown Hemipterans

Dear Ryan,
We have not had any luck matching your images to any images on line in our initial search, so we are posting your request as Unidentified.  We are quite certain these are members of the insect order Hemiptera, the group that includes True Bugs, Cicadas and Leafhoppers.  We will continue to research this matter and perhaps one of our readers will have some free time to investigate.

Update:  Cesar Crash from Insetologia found this Spittlebug posting in our archives that looks like the same species.  North American Spittlebugs do not tend to aggregate in such large numbers, though it is frequently possible to find several individuals hiding in the “spittle.”

Hemipteran Nymphs

Facebook Comment from Amy
Spittlebugs! (Ptyelus grossus?)

Subject:  What in the world….follow up
Geographic location of the bug:  Durban, South Africa
Date: 03/08/2019
Time: 02:40 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi again.
Thanks for trying to identify that mass of bugs:”Aggregation of unknown Hemipterans”. I have taken a few more pictures of whats left of them, so it might be clearer on what they are. Think they are some sort of leaf hopper.
How you want your letter signed:  Ryan

Spittlebugs

Hi Ryan,
Thanks for sending additional images that include the winged adult Spittlebug,
Ptyelus grossus.  According to the Flora of Zimbabwe:  “Larvae and nymphs of this species are highly gregarious. While feeding on the sap of certain tree species they excrete a foamy liquid that forms protective nests around them. Numbers of these nymphs can by so high in a single tree that the excessive excretions can drip onto the soil below the tree and may form wet patches or even small puddles.  Widespread in tropical and Southern Africa.

Letter 3 – Sharpshooter from the Caribbean

 

Subject: Query – bug identification
Location: Guadeloupe, Petit Boutg [Bougt]
February 11, 2013 10:13 am
I would appreciate very much if you could identify the bug (presumably Membracoidea)
Signature: Miroslav

Leafhopper

Dear Miroslav,
We needed to begin by researching that Guadeloupe, Petit Boutg is on a Caribbean island between Puerto Rico and Trinidad/Tobago, which we suspected, but we were not certain.  Alas, there isn’t a good online source for the insects of Guadeloupe, Petit Boutg.  In our opinion, the family is Cicadellidae, the Leafhoppers and not Membracoidea, the Treehoppers.  See BugGuide for North American Leafhoppers.  Individuals that live on islands have a closed gene pool and frequently develop into distinct subspecies and eventually species, as we learned from Darwin and the Galapagos.

Dear Daniel,
Many thanks for so quick response and worthwhile information. Is it so that my bug is similar to e.g., Graphocephala atropunctata?
Well, I must apologize for misprinting the location, it should read Petit Bourg, not Petit Bougt, sorry for that.
I have pictures of another two species from Guadeloupe that I am not able to identify. Do you think I can submit them for identification?
Best regards,
Miroslav

Yes you may, but we are about to leave the [home] office for the day to go to work and we probably won’t do any additional posting until tomorrow.

Karl provides an identification of this Sharpshooter
Hi Daniel and Miroslav:
It’s a leafhopper in the family Cicadellidae and subfamily Cicadellinae, commonly referred to as Sharpshooters. I think it is probably Hortensia similis, a species that is common throughout the Lesser and Greater Antilles, but has a much wider distribution that ranges from Florida to the northern half of South America. Regards.  Karl

Letter 4 – Sharpshooter

 

name that bug!
Location: cordova, tennessee
June 24, 2011 11:02 pm
any ideas. might the one be a type of tortoise beetle (?)
i have no idea about the green and orange one (about 1cm length)
Signature: mavis

Sharpshooter

Hi Mavis,
Your green and orange insect is a Leafhopper in the group known as the Sharpshooters, and we believe we have correctly identified it as
Graphocephala versuta on BugGuide.  According to BugGuide, this species sucks the juices from “leaves of blackberry, grape, honeysuckle, privet (Ligustrum spp.), cherry and various other deciduous trees.”  This remark may also be significant:  “Some individuals may be vectors of the bacterium (Xylella fastidiosa) that causes Pierce’s Disease in grapes, and Bacterial Leaf Scorch in a variety of deciduous trees.”  The creature in your other photo is not something that we recognize.

you are absolutely right and i thank you. i have been documenting the bugs/spiders… that i find in my yard in a 5 day bio blitz. it has been most interesting.
mavis

Letter 5 – Sharpshooter

 

Subject: It’s watching me!
Location: San Diego, CA
October 3, 2015 10:57 am
We have these flying insects eating our plants in the garden. They are very fast and observant of you trying to get near it.
Signature: Dashboardkat

Sharpshooter
Sharpshooter

Dear Dashboardkat,
We believe your Leafhopper is a Sharpshooter in the tribe Proconiini based on images posted to BugGuide.  Sharpshooters have excellent eyesight and they easily avoid humans by quickly moving to the other side of a twig or branch where they are feeding.

Letter 6 – Sharpshooter

 

Subject: Is this a dangerous bug?
Location: Orange County California
June 22, 2016 8:39 pm
Hey there,
You probably won’t remember as it was many years ago but we actually met you at an art conference in Pasadena, I was presenting a paper on beauty for my MFA in photography at SPE and you were in one of the seminars & we got to chatting w/my husband… Anyhow, I’m glad to see you site is still going strong and I actually have a bed related question.
Do you know what the guy in my pictures is? They’ve been living on my stephanotis jasmine forever & now one is visiting my new passiflora lady Margaret. From what I can tell he hasn’t harmed the jasmine at all, just sorta sits there..sheds once in a while but I’ve seen no holes in leaves or dead leaves w/evidence of bug bites or anything, and the flowers bloom happily, etc. is it any risk to Passion flowers? My passiflora Edulis has lived nearby for over a year & I see no bug damage to that plant from him either..
Someone did mention it could be a type of sharpshooter bug which can be dangerous to some plants like grape growers deal with, I do have the edible passionflower and I don’t want to lose that or any of my other plants like orchids, mold, multiple jasmine varieties, tomatoes, and a lemon tree. Is this guy dangerous to any of that? And if so, how do I get rid of it in a natural way? Thanks in advance 🙂 take care
Signature: Ioana

Sharpshooter
Sharpshooter

Hi Ioana,
How nice to hear from you.  That SPE conference on Beauty was many years ago.  This is some species of Leafhopper known as a Sharpshooter, and they are insects with mouths designed to pierce and suck nourishment, and in their case it is nourishment from the young shoots on your plants.  Many Leafhoppers and Treehoppers spread viral or bacterial infections from plant to plant while feeding.  This might be a Glassy Winged Sharpshooter based on this BugGuide image and according to BugGuide, it is “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.”  We would not want to eliminate the possibility that it is a member of another genus of Sharpshooters, like Oncometopia, also pictured on BugGuide.

Letter 7 – Sharpshooter from Mexico

 

Subject: Numerous pests
Location: Mexico, Guerrerero State
December 2, 2015 2:03 pm
These seem to suck sap and shoot out a droplet of water every second or so. Not sure what they are but they keep the praying mantis busy.
Signature: JR

Sharpshooter: Oncometopia clarior
Sharpshooter: Oncometopia species

Dear JR,
This is a Leafhopper known as a Sharpshooter from the subfamily Cicadellinae, and it really resembles a North American species pictured on BugGuide,
Oncometopia alpha, except your individual has a green thorax.  We searched for relatives from Mexico and we found Oncometopia clarior on entomologist Daniela M. Takiya’s site.  The green wings on your individual haven’t quite the textural pattern, but it is similar enough for us to presume your individual is in the same genus.  Sharpshooters do indeed suck fluids from plants and they also release honeydew from their anal opening.

Letter 8 – Sharpshooter Leaf Hopper

 

I can’t tell you what a find you were on the internet. Today, I was photographing insects on milk weed. I found six different insects. These three are not in any of my books. I think it is a leaf hopper but can’t find it in any books or on the internet. They where in Orland Grassland in Orland Park Illinois.Thanks again… you are great!
Suzanne

Hi Suzanne,
It is definitely a Leafhopper. WE thoughth the description of Oncometopia undata fit. It is described, according to Comstock as: “a common species. Its body, head, fore part of the thorax, scutellum, and legs are bright yellow, with circular lines of black on the head, thorax, and scutellum. The fore wings are bluish purple, when fresh, coated with whitish powder. It measures 12 mm. in length. It is said to lay its eggs in grape canes, and to puncture with its beak the stems of the bunches of grapes, cuasing the stems to wither and the bunches to drop off.” We then did a websearch and found a photo on BugGuide.net that supported our supposition. Then we found a photo in our Audubon Field Guide that identifies it as Oncometopia nigricans and calls this large leafhopper a Sharpshooter.

Letter 9 – Sharpshooter Nymph

 

Subject: Bugs on my fig tree
Location: Irvine (Southern California)
May 15, 2015 7:07 pm
Hi! In the last month I’ve discovered these little gray bugs on my fig tree & succulents nearby. They are quick, and hide so as to not to be seen. They squirt a liquid out at you, it seems…or maybe they just happen to when I’m observing them. Now I see that some of them have started molting. They look like a cool aquatic creature and I’m very curious as to what they are!
Signature: Alicia

Sharpshooter Nymph
Sharpshooter Nymph

Hi Alicia,
This is the nymph of a Sharpshooter, a Leafhopper in the subfamily Cicadellinae, but we are unable to provide you with a species identification.  Perhaps if you get any images of a winged adult Sharpshooter once it matures, we will have better luck.

Letter 10 – Smoke Tree Leafhopper

 

Couldn’t find this one on your site
Very awesome site! I was able to identify several bugs I had no idea about. Thanks. Can you ID this one for me? Found in the back yard in southern California (Camarillo).
Adriano

Hi Adriano,
This is a new species for us, though once we saw one at our Mt. Washington offices but didn’t have a camera. This is identified by Hogue as a Smoke Tree Leafhopper, Homalodisca lacerta. Yours is a female identified by the white globule spot on the wings.

Thanks and update Thank you for your identification of Smoke Tree Leafhopper, Homalodisca lacerta. I found a website today that indicates it may be a Homalodisca coagulata or Glassy-winged Sharpshooter instead. Link: Apparently, this critter is a Pierce’s disease vector and a serious new threat to California vineyards. The summary on the above linked site is quite informative. Thanks again for having such a wonderful site!
Adriano

Letter 11 – Speckled Sharpshooter

 

here’sa nother odd one
Location: cordova, tennessee
June 24, 2011 11:19 pm
the first 2 images are from an insect found on rattle snake master plant.
Signature: mavis

Speckled Sharpshooter

Hi again Mavis,
This is another Sharpshooter, and this one has a common name.  It is the Speckled Sharpshooter,
Paraulacizes irrorata, and as usual, we turned to BugGuide for the identification.

i thank you again. i have been using bug guide, but since i am somewhat of a novice, unless i can nail down the correct order, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. slowly, but surely i will learn more.
mavis

Letter 12 – Speckled Sharpshooter

 

Subject:  What am I?
Geographic location of the bug:  Andover Township, NJ
Date: 06/12/2019
Time: 06:16 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi Daniel,
Hoping you can id this interesting little insect.  It looks to me like some type of planthopper maybe, although I’ve never seen one in my garden before today.  Length approximately 1/2 inch and it wasn’t moving much.  I plucked the flower it was on to get some better shots, expecting that it might fly, but it just stayed in place.  Hope these shots are enough to identify it.
How you want your letter signed:  Deborah E Bifulco

Speckled Sharpshooter

Hi Deborah,
You are correct that this is a Planthopper, more specifically, a Sharpshooter.  Planthoppers are insects that feed by sucking fluids from plants, and some species are known to spread viruses to plants, so they are generally not too welcome in the garden.  We quickly identified your Speckled Sharpshooter,
Paraulacizes irrorata, thanks to images posted to BugGuide.  According to BugGuide food plants include:  “Asteraceae: Cirsium altissimum (tall thistle), Cirsium sp., Conyza canadensis (horseweed), Lactuca serriola (prickly lettuce), Silphium integrifolium (wholeleaf rosinweed); Poaceae: Elymus virginicus (Virginia wild rye), Sorghum sp. (cultivated sorghum).”

Speckled Sharpshooter

Thank you for the quick id!  I never mind having planthoppers in my garden, so he/she is welcome to hang out.

Authors

    by
  • 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.

  • 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.

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