Oak Treehopper: Quick Facts for Curious Nature Lovers

The Oak Treehopper (Platycotis vittata) is a fascinating insect found throughout the eastern United States, known for its unique appearance and feeding habits. Often mistaken for leafhoppers due to their similarities, Oak Treehoppers are generally larger and have distinctive bumps and spines on their thorax NC State Extension Publications. With body lengths ranging from 8 to 13mm, these intriguing creatures vary greatly in color and size of their frontal horn, adding to their charm and allure.

Rather than feeding on leaves, Oak Treehoppers have evolved to exclusively feed on the new growth of small stems on oak trees, specifically within the Smiliini and Telamonini groups Smithsonian Institution. These fascinating insects are also known for their ability to jump and fly off when disturbed. With their captivating appearance and fascinating feeding behavior, the Oak Treehopper is an interesting example of the diversity and beauty found in the insect world.

Oak Treehopper: Description and Species

Size and Shape

The Oak Treehopper (Platycotis vittata) is a sizeable, heavy-bodied insect with a triangular shape, often possessing a frontal horn. Their length ranges between 8 to 9 mm, excluding the horn, and 10 to 13 mm when including it 1.

Color Variations

This species exhibits a wide range of color variations, typically having stripes and occasionally displaying a red or black hue. Examples include:

  • Red with black stripes
  • Black with red stripes
  • Solid black

Range and Distribution

Oak Treehoppers are found across the Eastern United States, where they feed on oak trees2. These insects are part of the Smiliini and Telamonini tribes and feed on the new growth occurring on oak tree stems3.

Features Oak Treehopper
Size (without horn) 8 – 9 mm
Size (with horn) 10 – 13 mm
Shape Triangular
Colors Red, black, with stripes
Range Eastern United States

Life Cycle and Behavior

Eggs and Nymphs

The oak treehopper, Platycotis vittata, starts its life as eggs laid on oak trees. These eggs hatch into nymphs, which undergo five developmental stages called instars before maturing into adults2. Here are some key characteristics of eggs and nymphs:

  • Eggs are laid on oak twigs
  • Nymphs are white with red and black markings4

Mature Adults

Mature oak treehoppers can be quite large, with body lengths ranging from 8 to 9 mm not counting the frontal horn1. These adults are:

  • Heavy-bodied
  • Triangularly shaped
  • Often marked with stripes
  • Variable in color and horn size3

Mating and Broods

Oak treehoppers typically mate during spring and produce several broods throughout the season5. Here is a brief overview of their mating behavior:

  • Mating occurs in the spring
  • Several broods per season

In summary, the oak treehopper has a fascinating life cycle and behavior that revolves around oak trees. From the eggs and nymph stages, through to mature adults and mating, these insects demonstrate unique characteristics and contribute to the ecosystem they reside in.

Habitat and Host Plants

Oak Tree Species

Oak treehoppers (Platycotis vittata) are found on oak trees, primarily in forests and parks throughout the eastern United States2. These insects are known to feed gregariously on various oak species, including both evergreen and deciduous varieties4.

  • Habitat: Forests, parks
  • Hosts: Oak trees (Quercus spp.)

Evergreen Oaks

Some examples of evergreen oaks, which can serve as hosts for oak treehoppers, include:

  • Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
  • Holly Oak (Quercus ilex)
  • Cork Oak (Quercus suber)

These oak species provide year-round foliage for the oak treehoppers, as they retain their leaves all year1.

Deciduous Varieties

Deciduous oaks, on the other hand, shed their leaves annually. Various deciduous oak species are also host plants for oak treehoppers, such as:

  • White Oak (Quercus alba)
  • Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
  • Black Oak (Quercus velutina)
Oak Species Type Examples
Evergreen Oaks Evergreen Live Oak, Holly Oak, Cork Oak
Deciduous Varieties Deciduous White Oak, Red Oak, Black Oak

Oak treehoppers remain active on these deciduous oak species, feeding upon new growth when other foliage isn’t available3.

Infestation and Damage

Signs and Scars

Oak Treehoppers, Platycotis vitata, feed on oaks throughout the eastern United States, causing noticeable damage to the trees2. Some symptoms of infestation include:

  • Small brown or yellowing areas on the leaves4
  • Distorted foliage on infested terminals3

Twigs and Branches

During an Oak Treehopper infestation, damage progresses from the top of the tree downwards, affecting both twigs and branches1. Leaves at the top of the tree may turn brown along the tips and margins, wilt, and fall while still somewhat green1. Consequently, twigs and branches die.

Methods of Control

To control Oak Treehopper infestations, you can employ various management strategies, such as:

  • Regular monitoring and identification of the pest
  • Biological controls (e.g., beneficial insects)
  • Chemical controls (e.g., targeted pesticides)
Management Strategy Pros Cons
Monitoring Early detection, minimal intervention Requires consistent observation
Biological Control Environmentally friendly May not work in all circumstances
Chemical Control Rapid and effective Potential harm to non-target organisms

Taxonomy and Classification

Scientific Naming

The Oak Treehopper is scientifically known as Platycotis vittata. It is a species of insects belonging to the Membracidae family.

Phylum and Class

The Oak Treehopper belongs to the following taxonomic groups:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta

Family and Genus

The taxonomic classification of the Oak Treehopper further includes:

  • Order: Hemiptera
  • Family: Membracidae
  • Genus: Platycotis

Characteristics of the Oak Treehopper:

  • Heavy-bodied, triangularly-shaped
  • Length: 8 to 9 mm (without horn), 10 to 13 mm (with horn)
  • Highly variable in color and horn size

Comparing Platycotis vittata with other treehoppers:

Feature Platycotis vittata (Oak Treehopper) Other Treehoppers
Horn Present (varies in size) May not have horn
Size Larger compared to other treehoppers Smaller
Color Highly variable Depends on species

The Oak Treehopper, while part of the treehopper group, is distinct due to its larger size and variable characteristics. It is an interesting species to study for those interested in classification and insect diversity.

Predators and Defense Mechanisms

Common Predators

Oak Treehoppers, or Platycotis vittata, face several predators, including:

  • Birds
  • Spiders
  • Predatory insects

These predators can potentially endanger the oak treehopper population but have to overcome its defense mechanisms.

Horn and Spikes

The oak treehopper exhibits a unique feature known as the pronotal horn. This feature, found on the pronotum, varies in length and size, from 8 to 9 mm without the horn and 10 to 13 mm with the horn. The horn, combined with spikes, serves as a physical barrier against predators, making it difficult for them to attack the insects.

Camouflage and Mimicry

Another defense mechanism employed by oak treehoppers is camouflage and mimicry. They are known to resemble thorn bugs, such as Umbonia crassicornis, which may deter potential predators due to the intimidating appearance.

Oak Treehopper Thorn Bugs
A.K.A Platycotis vittata A.K.A Umbonia crassicornis
Pronotal horn present Pronotal horn present
Spikes on the body Spiny structures
Camouflage & mimicry Similar camouflaged appearance

By implementing these impressive defense mechanisms such as horn and spikes, camouflage and mimicry, oak treehoppers can successfully protect themselves from their common predators.

Footnotes

  1. EENY328/IN519: Oak Treehopper, Platycotis vittata (Fabricius … – EDIS 2 3 4 5

  2. Oak Treehopper | NC State Extension Publications 2 3 4

  3. The beautiful and bizarre treehopper | Smithsonian Institution 2 3 4

  4. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/oak-treehopper-1 2 3

  5. https://www.si.edu/stories/beautiful-and-bizarre-treehopper

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 – Oak Treehopper

 

Subject: red eyed one horned flying fuzzy footed cutie
Location: Kissimmee, Florida
April 4, 2015 2:17 pm
Hello, I saved this lil guy from a watery grave in Central Florida. I’ve searched google with no success. Also, he wad tiny. Thanks for the help!
Signature: DeanaFeral

Oak Treehopper
Oak Treehopper

Dear DeanaFeral,
Almost all of our identification requests for Oak Treehoppers,
Platycotis vittata, come from Florida.

Letter 2 – Oak Treehoppers

 

Subject: tree hopper species?
Location: Blythewood, SC
April 23, 2013 8:29 pm
Found a bunch of these all huddled together on a branch. Some had a horn, others didn’t. I am guessing male and female. What species is this? Thy did not want to move or come off the branch.
Signature: ?

Oak Treehopper
Oak Treehopper

Dear ?,
The Oak Treehopper,
Platycotis vittata, comes in both horned and hornless variations that have nothing to do with the sex.  Thank you for supplying photos of both variations in a single posting.  There are also striped and solid colored individuals.  You can read more about the Oak Treehopper on BugGuide.

Oak Treehopper
Oak Treehopper


Letter 3 – Immature Oak Tree Hopper

 

Subject:  Crazy cool bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Kenmore, WA
Date: 11/09/2018
Time: 07:29 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Seen under a chestnut tree in Sep 2016. Saw two them, they were docile and slow.
How you want your letter signed:  Season

Oak Tree Hopper Nymph

Dear Season,
This is an immature Oak Tree Hopper and we are intrigued that you found it under a chestnut tree.  According to BugGuide:  “Fairly common on deciduous and evergreen oaks,
Quercus spp.”  According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension pdf on the species:  “Essig (1958) reported that he collected a freshly hatched colony from a cultivated chestnut tree (presumably in California).”

Letter 4 – Immature Oak Treehopper

 

Subject: Insect
Location: Central Kentucky
September 12, 2014 2:54 pm
This landed on a zipper and I have never seen a bug like this.
Signature: Hblevins

Immature Oak Treehopper
Immature Oak Treehopper

Dear Hblevins,
This is an immature Oak Treehopper,
Platycotis vittata, and you may verify our identification by comparing your image to this image on Bugguide.

Letter 5 – Immature Oak Treehoppers

 

Subject: bug I found in my front yard
Location: foothills of NC
May 15, 2013 8:03 am
I found these little beetle looking bugs in the foothills of NC. I have never seen them before.
Signature: melissa

Oak Treehopper Nymphs
Oak Treehopper Nymphs

Hi Melissa,
These are immature Oak Treehoppers,
Platycotis vittata.  According to BugGuide:  “Hatching occurs in Spring in the South, and in late Spring in the North. Larva pass through five instars, and adults and larva form aggregations along oak twigs of up to 100 individuals. Females seem to exhibit protective behavior, keeping predators away from the young.”

Letter 6 – Oak Tree Hopper Nymphs

 

Subject: Some bugs from NC
Location: Wake County NC
May 4, 2013 5:27 am
My cousin’s wife snapped this pic in NC, around the Wake county area. What might these little buggers be?
Signature: Regards

Oak Treehopper Nymphs
Oak Treehopper Nymphs

These are immature Oak Tree Hoppers, Platycotis vittata.  Adults have wings and some have horns that make them look like thorns.

Letter 7 – Oak Treehopper

 

Insect ID
Can you help us ID this insect? We found it in our driveway in Ormond Beach, FL. We live about 8 miles from the beach in a neighborhood with lots of live oak trees. We’ve done lots of looking on "bug websites" with no luck. Thanks in advance for your help.
Laura Pugliese

Hi Laura,
This is an Oak Treehopper, Platycotis vittata. This was a new species for our site yesterday when we identified a group of nymphs sent from California. Your photo depicts the winged adult.

Letter 8 – Oak Treehopper

 

identification
August 12, 2009
the bug was found on a plastic tarp in northern california forest area
Faith
Forest Ranch, Ca

Oak Treehopper
Oak Treehopper

Hi Faith,
What an awesome image of an Oak Treehopper, Platycotis vittata.  According to BugGuide:  “Life Cycle  Hatching occurs in Spring in the South, and in late Spring in the North. Larva pass through five instars, and adults and larva form aggregations along oak twigs of up to 100 individuals. Females seem to exhibit protective behavior, keeping predators away from the young.  Remarks  Does almost no damage to the host trees—leaves only a few twig scars from oviposition.”

Letter 9 – Oak Treehopper

 

i need to find out what kind of insect this is and its classification in detail please asap!
March 3, 2010
Hi, I am trying to identify this insect for my professor and I have been unsuccessful so far. I am going to upload a picture of the insect and hope that you can help me …..please let me know asap thank you
meagan orendorff
tree

Oak Treehoppers

Ed. Note: Meagan did not indicate if her urgent need was personal or if a grade is involved for Professor Adams’ class as his name is listed as the file name for the image.  Typically, we respond to queries directly as well as posting to our website, but in this instance, we want to bypass the personal response in the hope that Meagan will return to our site where she can find the answer.  We are amused that “tree” was used to identify the location, while we typically receive a state or country in that field of our form.  These are Oak Treehoppers, Platycotis vittata, and according to BugGuide:  “Its Nearctic range is in a horseshoe shape, taking in the mid-Atlantic states, the southeastern states, the Deep South, Arizona, California, and Oregon. Present in some midwestern states such as Ohio, but lacking in the Plains states and Rockies. The species has been reported from Vancouver Island in Canada. It has also been reported from Mexico and Brazil. BugGuide also indicates it “Does almost no damage to the host trees—leaves only a few twig scars from oviposition.”

Letter 10 – Oak Treehopper

 

strange bug of course
Location: tampa florida USA
April 30, 2011 1:33 pm
This guy flew into our office building… Is he a nymph of something? Also throwing in another bug I would like to know what it is….
Signature: melody

Oak Treehopper

Hi Melody,
A nymph is an immature insect, and though some nymphs have wing pads that get larger with each molt, only adult insects have fully formed wings and are capable of flight.  This is an adult Oak Treehopper, a somewhat variable species, though your individual matches this image on BugGuide.  Your other insect is a Robber Fly.

Letter 11 – Oak Treehopper

 

Subject: Bug ID Help
Location: Clearwater Florida
March 20, 2015 8:11 am
This bug was on my shirt after a walk through the park in Florida. He stayed on my shirt until I got home and I was able to lift him off onto a paper towel. After several photos he fly away. Please help me ID.
Signature: Thanks, Eric C.

Oak Treehopper
Oak Treehopper

Dear Eric,
This distinctive insect is an Oak Treehopper,
Platycotis vittata, so we are guessing that the park you were visiting contained Oak Trees.

Oak Treehopper
Oak Treehopper

Thanks so much for the information. Very interesting. Yes we have Live Oak all around us!

Letter 12 – Oak Treehopper

 

Subject:  What is this cool looking guy
Geographic location of the bug:  North Florida
Date: 04/01/2018
Time: 05:08 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Just trying to identify this little guy
How you want your letter signed:  Daniel Hopper

Oak Treehopper

Dear Daniel,
This is an Oak Treehopper.  According to BugGuide:  “Does almost no damage to the host trees—leaves only a few twig scars from oviposition.  There are four named varieties and several other color variations, and some individuals lack the pronotal horn.” 

Letter 13 – Oak Treehopper

 

Subject:  What is this cool looking insect?
Geographic location of the bug:  Louisiana
Date: 04/14/2019
Time: 06:30 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I was wondering that this insect is called
How you want your letter signed:  Skylar

Oak Treehopper

Dear Skylar,
The Oak Treehopper is surely a distinctive looking insect.  According to BugGuide, its habitat is:  “Forests and forest edges, parks, and anywhere Oak trees are found. Occasionally found on other trees, but these individuals were probably just resting on those non-Oak trees.”

Letter 14 – Oak Treehopper from British Columbia, Canada

 

Subject: ID request: red eyed horned flying insect
Location: Victoria, BC Canada
August 7, 2014 12:47 pm
Hi. See attached photo. This bug landed on me while in my garden in Victoria, BC Canada in June 2014. I think you’ll agree it is very beautiful, do you know what it is?
Signature: Curious in Victoria

Oak Treehopper
Oak Treehopper

Dear Curious in Victoria,
Most of our reports of Oak Treehoppers,
Platycotis vittata, come from Florida, though BugGuide does indicate that the species is found along the Pacific coast, including British Columbia.

Thanks Daniel. That makes sense, we have several Gary Oak trees on our property. But in 12 yrs at this address, I’ve never seen one of these rather interesting insects.

Letter 15 – Oak Treehopper in California

 

Subject: Good or Bad Plant Bug
Location: Colfax, CA
April 18, 2015 10:23 pm
Attached are pictures of a bug found on the stem and leaves of some flowers we just potted. I don’t know if they are good for the flowers or not and I have not seen it before. I also can’t seem to find anything online when I researched it. Please help!
Signature: -Amy D

Oak Treehopper
Oak Treehopper

Dear Amy,
Good and bad are so relative, and there are many extenuating circumstances when making such evaluations.  We generally think of problematic insects as those that are introduced from other locations if they are able to get established and have no natural predators, because they often crowd out native species.  This Oak Treehopper,
Platycotis vittata, is a species that we get frequent identification requests regarding, but those requests are almost always from Florida.  We thought this might be an introduction from a nursery, but upon researching the Oak Treehopper on BugGuide, we learned that it is found along the west coast of North America as well.  According to BugGuide:  “Forests and forest edges, parks, and anywhere Oak trees are found. Occasionally found on other trees, but these individuals were probably just resting on those non-Oak trees. … Does almost no damage to the host trees—leaves only a few twig scars from oviposition.”

Letter 16 – Oak Treehopper Nymph

 

Subject:  Can’t find any bugs like this
Geographic location of the bug:  Sierra National Forest
Date: 09/27/2017
Time: 11:53 PM EDT
I was camping at Dinkey Creek and went down to the reflecting pool to fish. As I left I found several of these bugs on my bag.  I’m very curious what they are! Can you give me any help?
How you want your letter signed:  Chris

Oak Treehopper Nymph

Dear Chris,
In the past week, we have posted several images of groups of Oak Treehopper nymphs on twigs.  Your image of an isolated Oak Treehopper nymph on a plain background is an excellent addition to our archives.

Letter 17 – Oak Treehopper Nymphs

 

Help me identify this bug…
Hello – I have searched desperately all over the web to identify this bug infesting my 160 year old oak tree in my back yard. Can you help? Thanks so much,
Rena Lowry
Rocklin CA

Hi Rena,
These are Oak Treehopper Nymphs, Platycotis vittata. Amazingly, according to BugGuide, the species: “Does almost no damage to the host trees

Letter 18 – Oak Treehopper Nymphs

 

Subject:  Unusual cicada??
Geographic location of the bug:  Vienna, Virginia
Date: 09/23/2017
Time: 04:39 PM EDT
Hello Bugman,
My horticulture friend sent me this photo of cicada like insects on a birch tree in September in northern VA, but the wings do not look cicada like and I have never seen “horns” on cicadas. They look positively creepy!
Can you help us identify?
How you want your letter signed:  Stumped gardener

Oak Treehopper Nymphs

Dear Stumped Gardener,
Is your friend certain these Treehopper nymphs were on a birch tree?  They are Oak Treehopper nymphs,
Platycotis vittata, based on this BugGuide image, and according to BugGuide, the habitat is:  “Forests and forest edges, parks, and anywhere Oak trees are found. Occasionally found on other trees, but these individuals were probably just resting on those non-Oak trees.”  Since nymphs cannot fly, they were likely feeding on the plant upon which they were found.  Treehoppers and Cicadas are both in the same superfamily, hence the resemblance.

Letter 19 – Oak Treehopper Nymphs

 

Subject:  Black and white striped bug with red
Geographic location of the bug:  Crownsville, MD
Date: 09/27/2017
Time: 10:24 AM EDT
Hi,
I have never seen these bugs before in my area and was wondering if you could help. I wasn’t sure if they were a type of beetle or something different. Thanks so much for your help!
How you want your letter signed:  Carrie Jones

Oak Treehopper Nymphs

Dear Carrie,
These are immature Oak Treehoppers.

Letter 20 – Oak Treehoppers

 

White and Red Horned bug
Sun, Apr 5, 2009 at 11:48 AM
We live in Jacksonville, Florida, there’s a tree in the back yard, small leaves, and nuts. These small bugs, maybe half an inch long at most, litter the low lying branches. These pictures are of the same group, it’s April now, and they’ve been there for no less than a month, getting bigger, horns growing all the while. They look, if the pictures don’t show it so well, like tiny Cicada, with the addition of the horn atop their heads.
Keegan R. Gilmore
Northern Florida, US (Jacksonville

Oak Treehoppers
Oak Treehoppers

Hi Keegan,
These are Oak Treehoppers, Platycotis vittata. The tree you describe sounds like an oak, though the fruit is generally called an acorn, not a nut. According to BugGuide there are several color variations, and they are described as: “Grayish spotted with yellow, or turquoise with red stripes and red eyes. With or without a thorn-like horn.” BugGuide also indicates: “Hatching occurs in Spring in the South, and in late Spring in the North. Larva pass through five instars, and adults and larva form aggregations along oak twigs of up to 100 individuals. Females seem to exhibit protective behavior, keeping predators away from the young” and that it “Does almost no damage to the host trees—leaves only a few twig scars from oviposition. ”  Treehoppers and Cicadas belong to the same superfamily, Cicadoidea, in the insect order Hemiptera, which explains the resemblance you noticed.

Oak Treehoppers
Oak Treehoppers

Letter 21 – Oak Treehoppers

 

red striped moth or beetle?
Mon, Apr 13, 2009 at 2:29 PM
We saw these on our oak tree Easter morning. There are probably about 50 or so on this little branch (the branch is about as big around as a pencil). They look like some type of beetle or moth and are pretty slow moving. None of them flew off and only repositioned themselved when I touched them with a leaf. Do you know what they are?
Angie
Jacksonville, FL

Oak Treehoppers
Oak Treehoppers

Hi Angie,
You have Oak Treehoppers.  Platycotis vittata.  This is a variable species.  Some are striped and some not.  Some have a horn and some do not.  The species, according to BugGuide, does almost no damage to trees, and “Females seem to exhibit protective behavior, keeping predators away from the young. “

Letter 22 – Oak Treehoppers

 

Blue Cicada?
Sun, Oct 26, 2008 at 10:23 AM
Blue Cicada?
This little guy was found near a stream near the Blue Ridge Mountains in Northern Virginia. It is about .75 of a centimeter. Has the eyes and wings of cicada, I think. Blue and Red stripes are unique.
thanks, Don
Neersville, VA stream

Unknown Treehopper
Unknown Treehopper

Hi Don,
These are Treehoppers, and Treehoppers are related to Cicadas. Treehoppers are in the family Membracidae and Cicadas are in the family Cicadidae. Both are in the superfamily Cicadoidea. We tried searching the entries posted to BugGuide for the family Membracidae, but we could not find a match to your specimen. Perhaps some reader will be able to provide an answer.

Unknown Treehopper
Unknown Treehopper

Update: October 27, 2008
We just received a comment from a reader raising the possibility of this being an Oak Treehopper. We noticed the similarity in coloration when we searched BugGuide, but we neglected to read the information on the species, Platycotis vittata. We overlooked the possibility as the images on BugGuide of adults all have a horn, but the information states: “Grayish spotted with yellow, or turquoise with red stripes and red eyes. With or without a thorn-like horn” and “There are four named varieties and several other color variations, and some individuals lack the pronotal horn.”

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.

5 thoughts on “Oak Treehopper: Quick Facts for Curious Nature Lovers”

  1. I’m pretty sure these guys are edible. Treehoppers are eaten in South and Central America, including Mexico where they’re known as ‘periquitos,’ or ‘parakeets.’ A few genera are listed, including Umbonia, Ceresa, and Hoplophorion. Lastly, some of the species consumed sport bright colors, so this is likely not a case of true aposematic coloration

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