Treehoppers are fascinating insects that come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. With over 3,200 known species, these plant-feeding insects are found all around the world. As you delve into the world of treehoppers, you’ll quickly discover the incredible diversity among them.
The three main families of treehoppers include Melizoderidae, Aetalionidae, and Membracidae, with Membracidae being the largest and most widespread. Each species has its own unique characteristics, making them an intriguing subject for entomologists and nature enthusiasts alike.
These insects are not only captivating in their appearance but also play a significant role in the ecosystem as they feed on and are found on various types of plants. Identifying the plant on which a treehopper is feeding is often a key step in determining its species. As you continue learning about treehoppers, you’ll develop a greater appreciation for the complexity and beauty of these remarkable insects.
Evolution and Taxonomy
Genera and Classification
Treehoppers belong to the family Membracidae and are part of the order Hemiptera. They come under the superfamily Membracoidea, which is within the infraorder Cicadomorpha and the suborder Auchenorrhyncha. There are about 9 subfamilies of treehoppers, each with distinctive features and characteristics.
Some examples of treehopper genera include:
Since treehoppers have a vast range of morphological diversity, the taxonomy and systematics of this family are subject to ongoing research.
Treehoppers are found worldwide but are mainly distributed in the following regions:
- North America: Many treehopper species inhabit the United States, with a higher concentration in states like Missouri and Mexico.
- Europe: Treehopper populations are relatively smaller in Europe compared to North America.
- Tropics: Countries like Ecuador have a rich diversity of treehoppers due to their tropical climate, which provides an ideal environment for their existence.
Here’s a comparison table of treehopper distribution in these key geographic regions:
In conclusion, treehoppers exhibit fascinating evolutionary traits and taxonomy. The ongoing study of their lineage and systematics helps to better understand their behaviors and ecological significance. Their global distribution helps us appreciate the diverse range of forms these insects can take.
Treehoppers are classified under the order Hemiptera and are part of the class Arthropoda. These fascinating insects have a unique anatomy that consists of a head, thorax, and abdomen. A significant characteristic is their enlarged pronotum, which extends backward over the abdomen and usually covers part of the wings. Treehoppers are typically small, with sizes ranging from 3 to 15 millimeters in length.
Some common physical features of treehoppers include:
- Antennae, which are usually short and bristle-like
- Three-segmented feet (tarsi)
- Wings, often with distinct color patterns and venation
- Modified mouthparts, used for sucking plant sap
The morphological diversity in treehoppers is truly breathtaking. Their colors and shapes are highly variable, and some species even mimic leaves, thorns, or other plant parts for camouflage. Often, the pronotum exhibits various forms of ornamentation, such as spines, humps, or intricate shapes.
For example, some treehoppers might display:
- Vibrant green coloration, resembling leaf-like structures
- Pronotum shapes resembling thorns or spines for defense
- Intricate patterns and colors to blend in with their environment
While it might be challenging to identify treehoppers due to their vast diversity, you can use identification keys, photos, and expert guidance to determine species. One thing is for sure – witnessing the incredible variety and adaptations of treehoppers reminds us of the beauty and complexity of the natural world.
Egg to Adult Transition
The life cycle of treehoppers consists of three main stages: egg, nymph, and adult. After hatching from the egg, nymphs develop through several, commonly five, larger instars. During the late instars, you’ll notice that they start developing wing pads. Once the last instar sheds its skin, they emerge as adults.
Treehoppers have one to several generations per year, which varies depending on their location and species. The eggs can be laid singly or in masses, either inserted directly into the living tissue of their host plant, or deposited on its surface. Some females even coat their eggs with a frothy substance that hardens when dry.
Herbivorous Feeding Habits
Your treehoppers feed mainly on plant sap, which they obtain by piercing the plant tissues with their specialized mouthparts called stylets. They have a preference for trees, like oak, but sometimes feed on herbaceous plants and crops as well. As these insects grow and mature, their feeding preferences might change.
Roles of Ants
Treehoppers’ relationship with ants can be quite fascinating. In a mutualistic association called ant mutualism, ants collect honeydew, a sugary byproduct of treehoppers, and reciprocate by providing them protection from predators and parasites.
Here is a quick comparison of treehopper life stages:
|Growth and Transition
|Laid singly or in masses on host plant
|Hatches into nymphs
|Develops through 5 instars
|Grows wing pads, sheds skin, and becomes an adult
|Wings fully developed, capable of mating
|Lays eggs to restart the cycle
Remember to keep an eye on treehoppers in your garden for their unique lifecycle, fascinating feeding habits, and intriguing relationship with ants.
Predators and Defense Strategies
Treehoppers are fascinating insects known for their diverse interactions with other species. They have developed various defense strategies to protect themselves from predators. For example, many treehoppers exhibit mimicry and camouflage to blend in with their surroundings, making them difficult for predators to spot.
Some key defense strategies include:
- Mimicry: Resembling other organisms or objects in their environment.
- Camouflage: Blending in with the colors and patterns of their surroundings.
- Gregarious behavior: Living in groups to make it harder for predators to single out individual treehoppers.
Treehoppers may even partner with wasps, mutually benefiting from each other’s defense mechanisms.
Communication and Vibrations
Not only do treehoppers need to protect themselves from predators, but they also need a way to communicate with each other. They achieve this through creating vibrations and sounds on the plants they inhabit. When one treehopper produces a vibration, others in the vicinity can detect the signal, facilitating communication within the group.
Some reasons for using vibrations include:
- Mating calls: Attracting mates by producing distinct vibrations.
- Warning signals: Alerting other treehoppers of nearby predators or disturbances.
In this way, you can see that treehoppers are quite skilled in interacting with their environment and cohabiting species, demonstrating unique adaptations for protection and communication.
Damage to Agriculture
Treehoppers can cause significant damage to agriculture, as they feed on plant sap and weaken the plants, reducing their overall health and crop yields. For example, you might see wilted leaves and stunted growth in your garden due to their feeding patterns. Additionally, treehoppers can transmit plant viruses, further harming your crops.
In order to protect your plants, you can use insecticides or introduce natural predators like ladybugs that are known to feed on treehoppers. Implementing preventative measures such as crop rotation and regular monitoring can also help minimize treehopper damage.
Study and Curation
Studying treehoppers can help us understand their biology, ecology, and behavior. This knowledge can ultimately inform better pest management strategies. Researchers examine various aspects of treehopper life cycles, including their mating habits, host plant preferences, and interactions with predators.
Your role in this process can involve collecting treehoppers for research purposes or even as a hobbyist curator. By building collection of preserved treehopper specimens, you contribute to the documentation of their diversity and distribution. In doing so, you support efforts to better understand these fascinating insects and potentially develop new strategies to reduce their impact on agriculture.
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 – Thorn Treehopper
Location: Ft. Lauderdale, FL
January 9, 2011 2:39 pm
We recently discovered our powder puff bushes in the backyard had become a home to these creatures. We tried to look them up everywhere and havent been successful. We think they might be some kind of infant insects but are not sure. There’s a bunch of them, they have wings, their bodies seem point and yellow. If you could help us we’d be most appreciative.
These are not immature insects. They are adult Treehoppers in the family Membracidae, and we believe they are Thorn Treehoppers, Umbonia crassicornis, based on a photo posted to BugGuide. The Info page on BugGuide quotes the University of Florida Featured Creatures website which describes them as: “a variable species as to size, color and structure, particularly the pronotal horn of males. Typically, the adult is about 0.5 inch in length and is green or yellow with reddish lines and brownish markings. … Young nymphs have three horns instead of the one seen on the adults.” The Featured Creatures site also indicates: “The thorn bug is an occasional pest of ornamentals and fruit trees in southern Florida. During heavy infestations, nymphs and adults form dense clusters around the twigs, branches and even small tree trunks. Some hosts which have been severely damaged include Hibiscus sp., powder-puff (Calliandra spp.), woman’s tongue tree (Albizzia lebbek), and Acacia spp. Young trees of jacaranda (Jacaranda acutifolia) and royal poinciana (Delonix regia) with a diameter of 1.5 to 2 inches have been killed by thorn bugs in the Tampa area. The trunks were so heavily infested that is was difficult to place a finger anywhere on the trunk without touching a specimen. Damage is caused by sucking the sap and by oviposition cuts. Butcher (1953) reported that certain trees, especially some cassias, suffered considerable loss of foliage, and that pithecellobiums (Pithecellobium spp.) suffered general and extensive terminal twig death. He also mentioned that thorn bug honey-dew secretions and accompanying sooty mold development caused a nuisance to home owners. Kuitert (1958) noted that heavy accumulations of honey-dew sometimes occurred on parked automobiles. There are reports of barefooted children stepping on the spines of thorn bugs which drop out of trees. The wounds are slow healing and sometimes become infected.“
Letter 2 – Treehopper from Indonesia
Subject: Tree hopper
Location: Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
December 24, 2012 1:53 am
Hello again Daniel,
I took these pic at the small garden in front of my house.
I didn’t know what kind of tree hopper it is, although it is close to buffalo tree hopper but this one got brown color, and three spines (left, right, and middle stretch to it’s back).
I almost didn’t notice this one, I taught it just a thorn in a tree. As always natures amazed me :).
Signature: Mohamad Idham Iskandar
Many Treehoppers in the family Membracidae mimic thorns, as you can see by the variety of species pictured on Bugguide and on the Brisbane Insect website. We believe we might have identified your particular Treehopper as the Horned Treehopper (Alosextius carinatus), which we located on the Photokito blog. Dave’s Garden also has a photo that looks similar as does India Nature Watch.
Many Treehoppers exude honeydew which makes them attractive to ants as your photos indicate.
Letter 3 – Planthopper from Mexico
Subject: Small, Green, Clear wings, kind of Frog head
Geographic location of the bug: La Manzanilla, Jalisco, Mexico
Time: 10:47 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Have no idea what this is. Our cat seemed interested in it…..on our curtain this afternoon. Quite small.
How you want your letter signed: Dave W.
Thanks much for getting back to us with the information you found. According to BugGuide, Rhynchomitra microrhina is a Dictyopharid Planthopper in the family Dictyopharidae.
Letter 4 – Probably immature Green-Face Wattle Hopper from Australia or related species in the family Eurybrachyidae
What’s this please?
Taken on Mount Tamborine, Australia.
It’s an odd tiny thing that walks backwards as if it’s spikes are on it’s head. Very jerky too. It’s like a mini dinosaur. Can you help? It’s got a few of us on the Ex-pats site flummoxed! Regards
We were certain this was an immature Plant Hopper, but were unsure of the species, so we scoured the Geocities website. We found several likely candidates in the family Eurybrachyidae whose nymphs look very similar to your image, but we cannot settle on an exact match. Several species are described as moving backwards. Some likely candidates include the Green Face Wattle Hopper (Olonia viridiventris), the Spider-face Wattle Hopper (Gelastopsis insignis), and the Eye-patterned Gum Hopper (Platybrachys vidua).
Letter 5 – Mating Horseshoe-Shaped Treehoppers from Oaxaca, Mexico
Subject: found this
Location: Oaxaca, Mexico
July 27, 2013 6:56 pm
I found this in Mexico and would like to know the type of bug this is.
These are Treehoppers in the family Membracidae, and according to BugGuide, they: “differ from related families in having a large pronotum that extends back over the abdomen and (often) covers the head; many species appear humpbacked or thorn-like; others have spines, horns or keels.” Your individuals are among the most strangely shaped we have seen photos of. It appears you have also photographed a mating pair. We found it identified as a Horseshoe-Shaped Treehopper, Sphongophorus ballista, on The Featured Creature.
Letter 6 – Membracid Tree Hopper Nymph
Another mystery Bug?
Thanks for the help identifying the bark lice for us. I was tending to some elderberry bushes here in Fairhope Al., and noticed an unusual little guy that I have never seen before. Would you be able to assist us again? I have attached an image of the insect. Sorry for the low quality but it was small and it was somewhat camera shy! Thanks,
John and Melissa Pershina
Hi John and Melissa,
We believe this is an immature Plant Hopper. We will try to figure out the species for you. Eric Eaton provided this information: ” The mystery hopper is a juvenile membracid (tree hopper, family Membracidae). I have no idea which one. The adults look radically different from the nymphs.”
Letter 7 – Probably Treehoppers from Peru
Location: Rio Pindayo, near Curimana, Ucayali, Peru
February 5, 2011 2:51 am
Can anyone please help to identify these bugs seen in Peru?
Signature: Peter Bruce-Jones
We believe that these are Treehoppers in the family Membracidae, though we would not rule out that they are Free Living Hemipterans in another family. We will work more on a species identification for you. It appears as though the individual in the upper left corner is giving live birth to a nymph. Many Hemipterans, including Aphids, are able to reproduce asexually, with females producing genetic clones of themselves without the need for a male of the species.
Letter 8 – Thorn Mimic Treehopper from India
Subject: Curious to know the name of this insect.
Location: GUWAHATI, NORTHEAST INDIA.
July 23, 2016 3:22 am
Will be very thankful with your reply.
We are confident that we have identified your Thorn Mimic Treehopper in the family Membracidae as Leptocentrus taurus since we have found corroboration on India Nature Watch and Biodiversity India.
Letter 9 – Thorn Treehopper
What is this thing?
Location: Sarasota Florida
March 30, 2011 3:01 pm
I found my Calliandra haematocephala a.k.a. Dwarf Red Powder Puff covered with a ton of these unknown insects this afternoon. Help!!!!
Signature: Peter Sowka
We matched your photo to that of an immature Thorn Treehopper, Umbonia crassicornis, on BugGuide. Adults will have fully developed wings. BugGuide also provides some interesting information, including: “Both young and adults feed on the same trees. Many times both are found together in clusters on branches” and “The female actively tends her brood or colony, which can number from 15 to 50 individuals.”
Letter 10 – Thorn Treehopper
Subject: What’s that bug?
Location: Ft. Lauderdale, FL
May 16, 2014 3:56 pm
Found this cute little guy hitching a ride on my car in Ft. Lauderdale on May 16.
This is a male Thorn Treehopper, Umbonia crassicornis. You can compare your image to this image on BugGuide. We have many images on our site of Thorn Treehoppers, however, your individual is quite distinctive. There is considerable variation in coloring, markings and the development of the “thorn” in this species. BugGuide has examples of some of the variations.
Letter 11 – Thorn Treehoppers
Subject: Strange bug on tree in Florida
Location: Naples, FL
October 19, 2013 4:45 pm
Hello there, in the yard of my friends in Florida, they discovered a strange bug in their tree, they went to multiple places but couldn’t find out what it is. Do you know?
These are Thorn Treehoppers, Umbonia crassicornis, which we identified thanks to images posted to BugGuide. There are many Treehoppers from around the world that escape visual detection because they mimic thorns and twigs. Your photo contains both adults and nymphs. According to BugGuide: “The female actively tends her brood or colony of 15-50 individuals” and “U. crassicornis has been the subject of studies on parental care and communication.”
Letter 12 – Thorn Treehoppers
Subject: UNKNOWN INSECT
Location: homestead florida
July 14, 2014 7:51 am
Hello, on one of my tree branches there were hundreds of green insects. they seemed to grow in stages. very small brown looking with blue colors. as they get bigger, they are like lime green with a head that has like a spike that curves back. they just kind a sit there. and they fly!!
Signature: KIM PROZZILLO
Your image is quite blurry, but these Thorn Treehoppers, Umbonia crassicornis, are unmistakable.
Letter 13 – Tree Hopper
Subject: Small brown bug
Location: Dallas, tx
April 10, 2016 7:24 pm
We found this bug in our house and are stumped. What is it?
This is a Treehopper in the family Membracidae, and we believe, based on BugGuide images, that it is in the genus Cyrtolobus.
Letter 14 – Thorn Tree Hopper from Dominican Republic: Marcianito
Little spiky bug… (the last martian on earth)
Tue, Mar 10, 2009 at 2:32 PM
When I was a little boy I used to play with this type of insect I called “marcianitos” (little martian in spanish). There used to be hundreds in some trees at school, but I wasn’t able to find them in any other place. I even tried to breed them at home in every plant I found but they always disappeared.
Today, 20 years later, I was at the mechanic and when I bent down to pick up something I found this one lying on the floor, It was barely alive but I managed to bring it home and take some photos.
Most of them looked like this one, but there were others with other color highlights, some brown instead of green, and others with the top spike less “pointy” but flatter, longer and a little bit bent backwards with a more aerodynamics look. It doesn’t smell bad, but when I gathered many of them together for a while they produced a bitter-leaf-smell I think but not too strong. They fly and when put lying down they do some kind of “click” to get up.
Could you help me identify this boy?
Dominican Republic ( Caribbean)
We are perfectly charmed by your letter, from the childhood memories, to the decades later encounter, to the colorful description, to the descriptive Spanish name for this unknown Tree Hopper. Tree Hoppers are in the family Membracidae. Though we cannot identify your exact species, you can view many similar relatives of your Marcianito from North America on BugGuide
Update: Thu, Mar 12, 2009 at 9:02 AM
Thank you very much Daniel!
With the name you gave me I think I found more about them, their name is “Thorn Treehopper” (Thorn bug, Thornhopper)… check it out at bugguide:
http://bugguide.net/node/view/4791/ I also find something here: http://www.kendall-bioresearch.co.uk/hemip1.htm#tree
If that info is correct then we have just identified our bugdy!
Thank you again!
Thu, Mar 12, 2009 at 7:21 AM
This Membracid is in the genus Umbonia most likely U. crassicornis or U. spinosa. I have seen them in aggregations many times, usually the mothers gaurd the eggs which they insert into plant tissue, then they form family groups which are subsocial.
Author : Jackruby
Letter 15 – Treehopper
Extremely cute mystery beetle – help?
April 19, 2010
I have no idea what this bug is or where it came from. I was sitting on our front porch when he (I’ll assume it’s a he) came strolling across the banister. I ran in the house, grabbed the digital camera, and stood there fumbling with it while Mystery Bug stood around waiting for me to get ready. He was extremely cooperative throughout the process and didn’t seem to mind the profanity spewing forth out of me as I attempted to operate the camera and deal with the fact that it refused to let me zoom in on anything and that its “macro” setting lies like a dog (but makes flowers ten feet away look AMAZING).
In any case, the pictures do this little bug no justice. It was about the size of my pinky fingernail and it had little pink eyes set very far apart on its head like a cow. It seemed to flutter its wings nervously now and then, but didn’t fly away even when poked at. In fact, I wasn’t altogether all that sure it could fly at all until it finally did, after I was done, very quickly.
In addition to the three pictures I have enclosed here, I also have some very lovely snapshots of our porch and flowerbed with a comically out-of-focus bug in the middle of them if you are interested.
Any help you could provide in identification would be greatly appreciated.