Planthoppers and leafhoppers are two fascinating insect groups that can sometimes be mistaken for one another due to their similar appearances. However, they belong to different families and exhibit distinct characteristics which sets them apart from one another. In this article, we will explore the differences and similarities between these two intriguing insects.
Planthoppers belong to the infraorder Fulgoromorpha, while leafhoppers are part of the Cicadellidae family. Both insects are known for their hopping abilities, but they can be distinguished by their body shapes and wing structures. Planthoppers have a more triangular body shape with prominent, cone-shaped heads, whereas leafhoppers typically have narrower bodies and wedge-shaped heads. Furthermore, planthoppers often exhibit a flat body and wings, as seen in the Acanaloniidae family.
Leafhoppers, such as the redbanded leafhopper, are well known for their striking colors, which can vary from bright red and blue (or green) markings on the wings and thorax to vibrant yellows on the head, legs, and underparts. On the other hand, planthoppers display a range of colors and patterns as well, but they tend to be less brightly colored than their leafhopper counterparts. Both planthoppers and leafhoppers can cause damage to plants, as they feed on plant sap, which can transmit diseases or cause leaf curling and yellowing.
Here’s a comparison table to better understand the differences between planthoppers and leafhoppers:
|Body Shape||Triangular, Conehead||Narrow, Wedge|
|Color Patterns||Less Brightly Colored||Vibrant, Striking|
|Feeding Habits||Plant Sap||Plant Sap|
In conclusion, planthoppers and leafhoppers may share a resemblance, but they possess distinct characteristics that allow us to differentiate between the two. From variations in their body shapes to the colors displayed on their wings, both insect groups offer a unique glimpse into the diverse world of insects.
Planthopper and Leafhopper Basics
Taxonomy and Classification
Planthoppers and leafhoppers are small insects belonging to the order Hemiptera. Planthoppers fall under the infraorder Fulgoromorpha and superfamily Fulgoroidea, while leafhoppers belong to the infraorder Auchenorrhyncha. They both share similarities but have distinct classifications:
- Planthoppers: Infraorder Fulgoromorpha; Superfamily Fulgoroidea
- Leafhoppers: Infraorder Auchenorrhyncha
Planthoppers and leafhoppers exhibit unique physical features, colors, and sizes. Some general characteristics include:
- Small, sap-sucking insects
- Well-developed hind legs for hopping
|Body Shape||Tend to be flatter, broader||Resemble cicadas, but smaller|
|Hind Legs||Have one row of small spines||Have one or more rows of small spines|
|Color||Different colors, including green||Green coneheaded planthoppers are common|
Biology and Life Cycle
Eggs and Nymphs
Planthoppers and leafhoppers lay their eggs within the tissues of their host plants. In many cases, these eggs are green to blend in with their environment. Once hatched, the nymphs undergo several developmental stages, known as instars, before becoming adults.
- Planthoppers: nymphs have wing buds that grow with each instar
- Leafhoppers: nymphs resemble smaller, wingless adults
Adult planthoppers and leafhoppers are both strong jumpers and flyers, feeding on the sap of their host plants using their piercing-sucking mouthparts. They are responsible for transmitting various plant diseases.
|Body Shape||Cone-headed, more elongated||Slender, wedge-shaped|
|Colors||Green or brown||Green, brown, or brightly-colored|
|Eggs||Inserted into plant tissues||Inserted into plant tissues|
|Nymphs||Possess wing buds||Resemble wingless adults|
|Feeding Habits||Plant sap with piercing-sucking mouthparts||Plant sap with piercing-sucking mouthparts|
In conclusion, planthoppers and leafhoppers share similarities in their life cycles as well as some distinctions, such as their body shape and the appearance of their nymphs. Both insects can cause significant damage to host plants and transmit diseases, making them important pests to be monitored in agricultural settings.
Behavior and Habitat
Planthoppers and leafhoppers have different feeding habits. Planthoppers mostly feed on plant phloem, while leafhoppers vary in their feeding habits depending on the subfamily, such as Cicadellinae feeding on xylem and Typhlocybinae feeding on parenchyma12. Both insects can be found on various plants, like grasses, in gardens, and fields.
Predators and Threats
Both planthoppers and leafhoppers have predators. Common predators include:
- Predator insects like ladybugs
In addition to predators, these insects face threats from environmental factors, like habitat loss and pesticide exposure.
|Jump||Yes (to limited extent)||Yes (more efficiently)|
|Resemblance to leaves||Yes||Yes|
|Relation to spittlebugs and cicadas||Closely related||Less related|
Leafhoppers have more effective jumping abilities compared to planthoppers. Both planthoppers and leafhoppers have a resemblance to leaves, which helps them blend into their surroundings.
Common Planthopper and Leafhopper Species
Planthoppers are small hopping insects with distinctive head shapes and antennae attached below their eyes, on the sides of their heads 1. Some families include:
- Acanaloniidae: A family of planthoppers mostly found on plants and trees 2.
- Caliscelidae: A distinctive group characterized by odd-shaped heads 2.
- Cixiidae: Commonly found in grasses and herbaceous plants 2.
- Flatidae: Notable for their flat appearance and colorful patterns 2.
- Fulgoridae: Known for their bright colors and unique shapes 2.
Leafhoppers are a diverse group of hopping insects with characteristic rows of small spines on their hind legs 3. Some common leafhopper species include:
- Delphacidae: A family of sap-sucking insects closely related to planthoppers 4.
- Tan: A specific leafhopper distinguished by its downy pubescence and necrotic transmission capability 5.
- Yellow: A leafhopper characterized by its bright yellow coloring 6.
- Brown: Another leafhopper species identifiable by its brown hue 7.
Despite their similarities, leafhoppers and planthoppers are not closely related to treehoppers 8.
|Head shape||Angled or pointed||Varies|
|Antennae location||Below eyes||Front of head|
|Hind legs||No spines||Rows of spines|
|Color||Variable||Tan, yellow, brown|
Identifying Planthoppers and Leafhoppers
Antennae and Other Morphological Differences
Planthoppers and leafhoppers belong to the same insect order, Hemiptera, but have distinct characteristics. One noticeable difference is their antennae. Planthoppers have shorter, bristle-like antennae, while leafhoppers have longer, more slender ones.
Both insects exhibit different shapes and body structures. Planthoppers are usually flat, wedge-shaped, and have a wider body, like the common flatid planthopper. Leafhoppers have a slim, parallel-sided body and can be identified by the small spines on their hind tibiae or “shins” as shown on MDC Teacher Portal.
|Antennae||Short, bristle-like||Long, slender|
|Body Shape||Flat, wedge-shaped||Slim, parallel-sided|
|Hind Tibiae||N/A||Small spines|
Coloration and Patterns
Planthoppers and leafhoppers exhibit various colors and patterns, which can help in identification. Planthoppers typically have a pale green coloration, while leafhoppers display a wide range of colors and patterns.
Examples of color differences include treehoppers, which are related to leafhoppers and have beautiful and bizarre patterns, making them distinct from the predominantly green planthoppers.
Keep in mind that these are general differences, and individual species may exhibit variations. Always consult a detailed guide or expert for accurate identification.
Damage and Control
Impact on Gardens and Crops
Planthoppers and leafhoppers are common pests in gardens and crops, causing damage to plants by feeding on their sap. Examples of damage caused by these insects include:
- Stunted plant growth
- Yellowing or curling leaves
- Reduced yields or even plant death
Both insects can transmit plant diseases, such as viruses and bacteria, which can lead to more severe losses in gardens and crops. A notable example is the brown planthopper, which can transmit rice ragged stunt virus, causing serious damage to rice crops.
Pest Management Strategies
Proper pest management strategies are essential to minimize damage caused by planthoppers and leafhoppers. Some strategies include:
- Regular monitoring: Inspect plants frequently to detect any infestations
- Cultural control: Maintain healthy growing conditions, including adequate watering and soil fertility
- Biological control: Introduce beneficial insects, such as lady beetles, to help control planthopper and leafhopper populations
- Chemical control: Apply insecticides when necessary, targeting the pests in their early stages
|Planthopper||Regular monitoring||Helps early detection||Time-consuming|
|Leafhopper||Cultural control||Promotes healthy plants||May not eliminate pests|
|Both||Biological control||Environmentally friendly||Can be slow-acting|
|Both||Chemical control||Effective against pests||Can harm beneficial insects|
By employing these strategies, gardeners and farmers can better manage planthopper and leafhopper populations to protect their plants from damage caused by these pests.
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 – Planthopper from Singapore
March 4, 2012 4:12 am
i was wondering if you could help me identify this cute little insect, it almost looked like a moth, but the wings were placed oddly. the whole insect was a light purple blue, sorry if the photo is a bad.
This is a Planthopper, and we did find several matching photos online, including this image on the Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature website, but we were unable to identify the species. We suspect it is in the family Flatidae.
thank you so much for the reply!
I have done some research on them, but I am still wondering if there is a difference between planthoppers and leafhoppers?
They are in the same Hemipteran suborder Auchenorrhyncha, the Free Living Hemipterans, but they are in different superfamilies. See BugGuide for a taxonomic breakdown.
Letter 2 – Palm Planthopper from Australia
An Australian Cicada?
February 3, 2010
I’ve just published a blog post on a cicada (?) I found in our garden. I don’t seem to be able to identify it, so I’m in need of help, please.
The post is at theridoureport.blogspot.com
There’re quite a few posts on bugs and critters I’ve found in our garden and inside – you can find all of them, if you click on the label ‘bugs’. Thanks in advance.
Dear Ridou Ridou,
This appears to be a Palm Planthopper, Magia subocellata, one of the Lophopid Planthoppers in the family Lophopidae. The Planthoppers are related to the Cicadas, hence your confusion. We identified your Palm Planthopper on the Brisbane Insect Page. Flickr has a nice image that shows the colors well, but the dead mounted specimens on the New South Wales Government website have lost their lovely blue and green coloration.
Well done, I’m impressed! Ridou Ridou
P.S. We would love some of those lovely profile shots from your blog to post on our site.
Hi Daniel, here are the photos… Ridou Ridou
PS. I contacted Dr Fletcher from Orange Agricultural Institute about the Planthopper, and as a consequence he added my photo of it to their website:
“Lovely pictures of Magia subocellata (Family Lophopidae). This species (and one other species of Magia) is native to North Queensland. It was found a couple of years ago in the tropical palm collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney and may well have spread to your area from there.”
Letter 3 – Planthopper from South Africa is Mottled Avocado Bug
Subject: *insert bug type here*
Location: South Africa, NorthWest, Rustenburg, Proteapark
February 2, 2014 5:37 am
This bug has caused quite a lot of arguments whether it’s a beetle or moth or whatever.
If you could please take a look:
The insect was found in our garden. It is roughly 1cm in length. When you come close or put another object close to it, it leaps/ jumps/ flies about half a meter up and 1 meter away (the action is more of jumping forward and gliding away as it does extend it’s wings but does not flap them or hover with them).
When it was caught, it spread it’s wings out (image 2) and stood like that for quite a long while until eventually it closed it’s wings again and started walking around in the container.
Signature: Thank you, Rhodeen.
This is neither a moth nor a beetle. It is a Planthopper in the order Hemiptera, a group of insects that have mouths designed for piercing and sucking, and which includes the True Bugs. The first matching image we located is on South African Photographs, and it is identified as Parapioxys jucundus in the family Eurybrachidae. Nature’s World of Wonder does provide the common name Moth Bug. According to the Google Books link to Tropical Fruit Pests and Pollinators, it is the Mottled Avocado Bug and “both adults and nymphs of P. jucundus feed on avocado and macadamia. This species is probably a phloem feeder.”
Wow! Thank you for replying so fast! We do have an avocado tree that we just recently planted so that’s probably why we’re only seeing it now. Thank you so much for the identification. Fantastic work!
Have a wonderful week!
Kind regards, Rhodeen.
Letter 4 – Unknown Cixiid Planthopper damages Tomatoes in Arizona
Stem damage by Cicada like bug
Location: Carefree, AZ
September 16, 2010 1:19 pm
Over the past two months I’ve noticed a white weblike substance deposited only on the stems of my Tomato, pepper and beans. Over time this has caused serious damage to the rest of the plant. Last week I noticed a tiny cicada like bug deposting this substance on one of the tomato plant stems.
Temp has been ~ 100-105 in the day, 75-85 at night.
I forgot to indicate that the bug is only about 1/8 – 3/16″ long
We are quite puzzled by your situation. We found a photo posted to BugGuide that is identified as a Cixiid Planthopper in the genus Oecleus, and it was from Arizona, so we believe it is the same species as your critter, but alas, BugGuide has no relevant information posted on the genus, nor does BugGuide have any relevant information posted on the family Cixiidae.
So though we feel we have identified the culprit to the genus level, we cannot provide a species and we are not sure how to advise you regarding dealing with the problem. Perhaps another pair of hours scouring the internet may turn up information we have missed. For now, we hope you accept the identification of Unknown Cixiid Planthopper.
Thank you for your quick reply. I’m a novice on this but the picture certainly looks very similar, if not the same. I did some more research on the web and located Tom Murray’s page http://www.pbase.com/tmurray74/planthoppers_family_cixiidae that also has pictures of the Cixius nymphs. I’ve been seeing what i thought were white flies on the tomatoes but it seemed a bit late in the year for them. While it will be difficult for me to get a good picture of them, at this time i’m assuming they are the nymphs. Does anyone in your team know what the white substance might be that is being secreted?
Letter 5 – Costa Rican Dictyopharid Planthopper
Patridge Scalop of some kind?
I recently returned from the Costa Rica and, as you can imagine, found quite a few interesting things to take pictures of. This one in particular I’m not finding much information on. The closest I can come up with is a Partidge Scalop of some kind. This was taken during a tour of an organic farm in the Osa Peninsula.
We tried looking up this creature using both spellings of your alleged common name, but neither search lead us anywhere. Spellings “partridge” and “scallop” were very broad and led us to many restaurants. Please provide us with the link you found. We believe this is some type of fly in the order Diptera, but your photo indicates the possibility of a second set of wings which would render our guess incorrect. We are asking Eric Eaton for an opinion. Eric quickly came to our rescue with this identification: ” I see how anyone could be confounded by that critter! It is a dictyopharid planthopper (family Dictyopharidae if my spelling is correct). They occur in North America, too, but obviously the tropical ones are way more spectacular:-) Oh, the order is Hemiptera (Homoptera no longer exists as a stand-alone order). Eric”
Letter 6 – Planthopper from Costa Rica
Don’t have a clue where to start with this one
January 31, 2010
I haven’t got a clue what this is. I took the shot in Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica, Caribeean coast
Hi again Miles,
This is a Freeliving Hemipteran in the suborder Auchenorrhyncha, and probably in the superfamily Fulgoroidea. It may be one of the Issid Planthoppers in the family Issidae or perhaps a Cixiid Planthopper in the family Cixiidae. Though they are not your of species, we have linked to some photos on BugGuide that look similar enough to have made the general identification we provided. Perhaps one of our readers will be able to provide a species identification.
Karl finds some information
Hi Daniel and Miles:
This looks like a Net-winged Hopper in the family Nogodinidae, a relatively small group of planthoppers that are quite similar to the Issidae, of which they are sometimes considered to be a subfamily. It is difficult to find much information about the group, but there are several photos identified as Biolleyana costalis and Biolleyana sp. posted on Flickr that look more or less identical. The Electronic Biologia Centrali-Americana provides very similar illustrations under the older synonym, Sassula costalis. Regards.
Letter 7 – False Eye Lantern Bug from Peru
Lantern bug from Peru
Location: Shima, near Satipo, Junin, Peru
February 5, 2011 2:47 pm
Can you please help me to identify this lantern bug found in central Peru?
Signature: Peter Bruce-Jones
The Planthopper Superfamily Fulgoroidea includes the Lanternflies, but we are not certain if your individual is in that family. The Free-Living Hemipterans are a real taxonomic challenge. Perhaps one of our readers will be able to supply a species identification for you.
Identification Courtesy of Karl
Hi Daniel and Peter:
It’s a classic case of misdirection. The relatively large false eye at the rear end and the tapered head give the impression that the bug is facing in the opposite direction. With luck, a would-be predator will attack the wrong end allowing the bug to escape in the opposite direction. The aptly named False-eye Lantern Bug (Fulgoridae: Odontoptera carrenoi) ranges from Central America to Amazonia, Regards. Karl
Letter 8 – Eurybrachyid Planthopper from Bali
Subject: Unidentified turquoise bellied (probably) Plant Hopper from Bali, Indonesia
Location: Bali, Indonesia
January 16, 2015 10:44 pm
I found that alien looking creature in my garden.
I am very confused about its identification, it’s head reminds me of mantids, but its movement and fluffy ‘butt’ reminds me of pant hoppers. I thought it could be a sort of moth, given that it apparently sports a galea, but then it has what appears to be a shell. I then thought it would be a kind of coleopteran, but then I was being silly.
It is also rather special in more than one way:
*It moves sideways and backward more often than forward
* It has two wings and two elytras but doesn’t appear to like flying
* It jumps short distances when feeling under pressure
* Sometimes emits a sort of white powder when jumping, probably as a defense mechanism, powder doesn’t seem to have any effect on me, maybe mildly irritating for the skin?
* Its abdomen ends in a sort of furry tuft of hair (thus my guess toward a hopper)
* It seems to have some kind of galea, and no visible mandibles.
Thanks by advance for your help!
Signature: Danny Hefer
We agree that this is a Planthopper, and we are posting your submission prior to attempting a more conclusive identification.
Identification Courtesy of Karl
Hi Daniel and Danny:
I believe this is a Eurybrachyid planthopper (Eurybrachyidae = Eurybrachidae). This is a small and obscure family with representative species in Asia, Australia and Africa. In Australia they are commonly referred to as Gum Hoppers or Wattle Hoppers. There is very little information to be found about Eurybrachyids in Indonesia, but based on photos of specimens from other parts of Southeast Asia I would say it is likely a variety of Thessitus sp. The genus has been reported from Thailand, Borneo and eastern Indonesia, so it seems reasonable that there are representatives on Bali as well. Danny’s comment that he thought it might be a beetle is interesting because some Eurybrachyid Planthoppers do look very much like beetles; so much so that they are sometimes referred to as Beetle Planthoppers. Check out these guys from Cambodia with their perfect false antennae and faces on their backsides. This is an example of automimcry, a type of mimicry where one part of an organism has evolved to resemble another part for the purpose of deception. Walking sideways or backwards is apparently a common behavior among Eurybrachyids, and is probably intended to deceive and confuse predators as well. In the case of some species, Ancyra spp. for example, both forms of deception are employed with impressive results. Regards. Karl
Letter 9 – Amazon Roostertail Planthopper from Peru
Subject: Peruvian Insect
March 30, 2016 3:01 pm
Hey my sister just got back from Peru and snapped this picture. Please help identify, obviously. Not sure if it is supposed to look this way or some sort of fungus is growing out of it. Either way, personally found it to be a very disturbing.
The common name of this Fulgorid Planthopper is the Amazon Roostertail. It does not have a fungus, but the “tail” is actually a waxy secretion. We had to lighten up your underexposed file, so the colors are not as saturated as they should be.
Letter 10 – Planthopper from Brazil
Location: Porto Alegre, Brazil
February 18, 2017 10:59 am
Hi again. I know this one it’s under the hemiptera order and I BELIEVE it is a planthopper from fulgoridae family. But I can’t find its exact name or this exact color. I found just one picture of the same bug but the person was saying it was a cicada (not true). It was not bigger than 3cm and was found in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in the morning. Do you have any idea about its name or something more specific? But any information or at least a confirmation would be appreciated! Thanks in advance. – 2 pictures attached.
Signature: Brenda Lavoieri
This is definitely a Free Living Hemipteran in the Suborder Auchenorrhyncha, and it might be a Fulgorid Planthopper, but we cannot state for certain to which family it is a member. Perhaps Cesar Crash who runs Insetologia will recognize this red-eyed hopper.
Letter 11 – Bug of the Month February 2018: Planthopper from Mexico
Geographic location of the bug: Muyil, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Time: 10:54 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: This cool looking small cicada or very large planthopper was about an inch long.
How you want your letter signed: Ben
We are declaring your awesome images of a Mexican Planthopper as our Bug of the Month for February 2018, but the winter day is so glorious in Los Angeles we must go outdoors, procrastinating any actual research into its identity for later.
Ah, my 15 minutes of fame.
Looking forward to learning more.
Letter 12 – Planthopper from Italy
Subject: Net winged beetle(?) + something
Geographic location of the bug: Abruzzo, Italy
Time: 03:04 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hi Daniel
Last 2 for a while, if you don’t mind.
First one is, I suspect, a Net winged beetle of the Lycidae family.
The second, I have to admit, has me totally stumped. It doesn’t appear to be a True Bug, moth or butterfly and cannot find any images of beetles even remotely similar.
Your help would be very gratefully received.
How you want your letter signed: Fof
We quickly identified your Red and Black Froghopper, Cercopis vulnerata, thanks to Alamy and the British Bugs site where it states: “A truly unmistakable species, and one of our largest homopterans. The nymphs are rarely seen, as they feed on underground roots.” According to iNaturalist: “This species is present in most of Europe (Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Spain, the former Yugoslavia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Hungary, Great Britain and Italy).” As with other Hemipterans that have mouths designed to pierce and suck, they might cause wilting of tender stems if they are plentiful, but a greater problem is the spreading of pathogens from plant to plant while they feed, based on what we found on EuroFresh. We never heard back from you after we identified your Common Picturewing from Vietnam.
Letter 13 – Planthopper
Subject: I’m so glad you’re back!
Geographic location of the bug: Florida
Time: 02:54 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: I’m so glad you’re back online and posting regularly- when the site went inactive, I became quite worried. I know this letter of appreciation is coming a bit late (as the site’s been active for a measure of time now), but I figured I should send a thank you, for continuing to keep this wonderful site up and running!
Since attaching an image is needed, I present this adorable little planthopper (specifically, Acanalonia servillei), which has won my heart- I am willing to say this is the cutest insect i’ve seen this year. I truly love this website and the sheer diversity of invertebrates (and sometimes, vertebrates) on it.
How you want your letter signed: Squidpastry
Thank you so much for your kind sentiments. After taking about a year off for personal reasons, Daniel resumed posting this year, but a three week trip to Ohio with spotty internet, software problems and much responsibility caused another brief hiatus. As Daniel is retiring in a few weeks as a full time tenured Professor at Los Angeles City College, he hopes to be able to devote even more time to What’s That Bug? in the future. Thanks so much for submitting your image of a Planthopper. According to BugGuide, the food plant is “host: caper (Capparis comosa, Capparaceae).”
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 – Unknown Bug Chosen over a Toad!!!
Subject: chosen over a toad
Location: Central Adirondacks
August 27, 2012 8:29 pm
At an outlet of a stream into Lake Honnedaga in the Adirondacks on August 25, I met this fellow while trying to photograph a toad. Naturally this beauty captured my attention. It measured about 2-4 mmm in length.
Is it a flea?
Signature: salvatore ja sclafani md
Your subject line really caught our attention, but sadly, we don’t recognize this nymph. It does appear to be an immature insect, but it is not a Flea. Perhaps one of our readers will be able to assist in the identification.
Ed. NOte: When this was originally posted, we wrote that “It does not appear to be an immature insect” but that was a typographical error. We do believe it is an immature insect, and most likely in the insect order Hemiptera.