Treehopper vs Leafhopper: Uncovering Their Unique Differences

As you explore the world of insects, you might come across two fascinating groups known as treehoppers and leafhoppers. These small, hopping insects belong to the same order, Hemiptera, and share a few similarities, but they also have unique characteristics that set them apart.

Treehoppers are well-known for their peculiar shapes and intricate camouflage patterns, which often imitate thorns or plant buds to deter predators. They feed on plant sap and can sometimes be considered agricultural pests, as their feeding can cause damage to crops like alfalfa and soybeans source.

On the other hand, leafhoppers are commonly found on grapevines, apple trees, and ornamental plants. They also feed on plant sap and can cause damage to these plants. Different species of leafhoppers can be identified by their distinct color patterns, such as the redbanded leafhopper, which has bright red and blue or green markings on its wings source. In conclusion, understanding the differences between treehoppers and leafhoppers can help you better appreciate these intriguing insects and the role they play in natural ecosystems.

Understanding Treehoppers

Treehoppers belong to the family Membracidae and are fascinating insects with diverse appearances. These insects can generally be found on oak trees and other plant species. Their most distinctive feature is the enlarged pronotum, which is shaped like a shield and gives treehoppers their unique look. The color of treehoppers can range from green to brown, depending on the species. Some examples of treehoppers include the buffalo treehopper and the oak treehopper.

Go ahead and study their appearances. You’ll notice that the treehopper’s enlarged pronotum can sometimes resemble thorns, leaves, or even other insects. This adaptation helps them camouflage themselves from predators while feeding on plant sap. As they feed, they use their specialized mouthparts to suck the sap from trees, leaving behind small puncture wounds that may sometimes harm the tree.

Although treehoppers share similarities with leafhoppers, they are two different entities. Be sure to notice the differences, such as the presence of the shield-like pronotum in treehoppers, which is absent in leafhoppers. Additionally, their habitat preferences and feeding habits are different too.

Here’s a brief comparison table to help you understand the differences:

Feature Treehoppers Leafhoppers
Family Membracidae Cicadellidae
Pronotum Enlarged, shield-like Small, normal-sized
Habitat Mostly trees, especially oak Variety of plants, mainly herbaceous plants
Feeding Tree sap Plant sap
Appearance Diverse, often mimic thorns, leaves, or other insects Generally small and slender with uniform coloring

Please remember that this information is just a quick overview of treehoppers. Enjoy your journey exploring these small yet fascinating creatures for a deeper understanding of their biology and behavior in a friendly and enjoyable manner.

Life Cycle of Treehoppers

Eggs to Nymphs

In the first stage of their life cycle, treehoppers develop from eggs to nymphs. Females lay their eggs on plant stems or leaves, ensuring a food source for the emerging nymphs. Once hatched, nymphs go through several instars, growing in size each time they molt their skin.

Transition to Adult Life

As treehoppers grow, they eventually develop wing pads during their late instars. Once they reach their final instar, they shed their skin one last time and emerge as fully developed adults, ready to mate and reproduce. Their antenna plays a vital role in sensing their environment during their transition into adult life.

Treehopper Predators

Treehoppers, just like leafhoppers, are not without their predators. Spiders and parasitoids are two examples of these predators that prey on treehoppers throughout their life cycle. To protect themselves, treehoppers will often form mutualistic relationships with ants, providing them a sugary secretion in exchange for protection against predators.

Understanding Leafhoppers

Leafhoppers are small insects belonging to the family Cicadellidae within the order Hemiptera. You may recognize them due to their sap-sucking behavior and distinctive hopping movements. They’re often confused with cicadas but are much smaller in size.

A common type of leafhopper is the green sharpshooter, which has a vibrant green color. These insects play a crucial role in the ecosystem, helping pollinate plants while feeding on sap. However, some leafhoppers may also damage plants and transmit diseases.

For example, the potato leafhopper is known to be a pest affecting over 200 plants, including potatoes and snap beans. This leafhopper can cause significant damage to these food crops, resulting in stunted growth and yield loss.

While there are many different species of leafhoppers, some key characteristics are shared among them:

  • Generally small size, often less than 1 cm in length
  • Hind legs with one or more rows of small spines
  • Tendency to hop when disturbed

In comparison to treehoppers, which are also insects belonging to the order Hemiptera, leafhoppers have:

  • A less diverse range of body shapes and colors
  • No enlarged pronotum, which characterizes many treehopper species

As you learn about leafhoppers, it’s essential to remember their roles in the ecosystem, as well as the potential damage they can cause as pests. By understanding their characteristics and habits, you can better appreciate these fascinating insects.

Life Cycle of Leafhoppers

Leafhopper Development

The life cycle of leafhoppers consists of three main stages: egg, nymph, and adult. Females typically lay their eggs within plant tissue. Once the eggs hatch, the immature stage, called nymphs, emerge. Nymphs resemble small adults but without wings, and as they grow, they go through multiple molts before becoming fully mature adults. The adult leafhoppers are usually one-eighth to one-fourth inch long and possess a set of wings, sometimes with vibrant colors and patterns.

Leafhoppers are known for their agility and ability to hop quickly. This movement is facilitated by their enlarged hind legs and the asynchronous movement of their antennae.

Leafhopper Predators

Leafhoppers are not without their enemies. Several predators are quite efficient at keeping their populations in check and controlling them in a natural environment. Some of these predators include:

  • Mites: Various predatory mite species feed on leafhoppers, specifically the nymphs, which are easier to catch and consume.
  • Spiders: Spiders are generalist predators and, as such, can also include leafhoppers in their diet.
  • Parasitoids: Leafhoppers can also fall victim to parasitic wasps, which lay their eggs inside the leafhopper’s body, eventually causing its death.

In addition to predators, leafhoppers may also face various challenges throughout their life cycle, such as harsh weather conditions, diseases, and competition for resources. As a result, understanding the life cycle and predator-prey relationships for leafhoppers can be essential when it comes to managing them in agricultural contexts or maintaining the balance of ecosystems.

Differences and Similarities

Morphological Differences

Treehoppers and leafhoppers are both members of the Hemiptera order, but they exhibit some notable morphological differences. For example, treehoppers have a unique, enlarged pronotum that extends backward and can take various shapes, colors, and sizes. This feature helps them camouflage on their host plants. On the other hand, leafhoppers have more flattened bodies without a pronounced pronotum.

Some other distinctions between these two insects include:

  • Hind legs: Treehoppers have shorter hind legs, while leafhoppers have large, powerful hind legs suited for jumping.
  • Tibiae: Leafhoppers possess row of small spines on their hind tibiae, which treehoppers lack.

Behavioral Variations

Both treehoppers and leafhoppers are known for their jumping abilities, but their behaviors differ slightly. Treehoppers mainly rely on their camouflage to avoid predators and will jump only when threatened. Leafhoppers, however, are more agile and are known to jump and fly regularly to evade danger.

Distinguishing Habitats

While treehoppers and leafhoppers may inhabit similar geographical regions, such as North America and Asia, they tend to occupy different host plants. Treehoppers typically prefer woody shrubs and trees, whereas leafhoppers are commonly found on herbaceous plants and grasses. In some regions like Missouri, leafhoppers may specifically target apple trees.

Common Pests

Both treehoppers and leafhoppers can cause significant damage to plants and crops. They use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to extract sap from their host plants, which can lead to several issues, such as:

  • Plant diseases: Both insects can transmit plant viruses and other pathogens.
  • Damage: They can create physical damage to plants, such as stippling, yellowing, and curling of leaves.

One common leafhopper pest is the Empoasca fabae, also known as the potato leafhopper. To protect your plants, consider using insecticides, but be sure to follow the recommended guidelines and precautions for their application.

Human and Ecosystem Connections

Treehoppers and leafhoppers are both small insects belonging to the arthropod family, which is characterized by jointed legs. These tiny land invertebrates, along with earthworms, slugs, snails, crayfish, shrimp, millipedes, and centipedes, play essential roles in maintaining ecosystem connections.

As a part of the ecosystem, treehoppers and leafhoppers interact with a variety of plants and animals. For example, they feed on plant sap, which can affect plant growth and development. Additionally, both of these insects serve as food sources for other invertebrates like spiders and for certain bird species.

These connections highlight the need for conservation efforts to protect these small yet influential creatures. By preserving their habitats and populations, you contribute to maintaining the health and balance of ecosystems in which they reside.

Below is a comparison table of treehoppers and leafhoppers:

Feature Treehopper Leafhopper
Scientific Order Hemiptera: Membracoidea Hemiptera: Cicadellidae
Size Generally larger than leafhoppers Smaller than treehoppers
Body shape Humpbacked, often with elaborate structures Slender, elongated
Plant interactions Mostly feed on woody plants Feed on a variety of plants

In conclusion, understanding and valuing the human and ecosystem connections between treehoppers, leafhoppers, and other land invertebrates can help inspire more effective conservation efforts, ensuring the long-term health of our environment. Remember, even the tiniest creatures can have significant impacts on our world.

Pathogens and Defenses

Treehoppers and leafhoppers are types of true bugs that belong to the Homoptera suborder. These pests can cause damage to plants and transfer pathogens, so understanding their defenses against these invaders is crucial. Let’s explore their various characteristics and how they protect themselves.

You might find similarities among treehoppers, leafhoppers, spittlebugs, planthoppers, froghoppers, and even cicadas since they all are part of the same family. These insects share piercing-sucking mouthparts, allowing them to extract nutrients from plants. However, this method also makes them potential carriers of plant pathogens.

While treehoppers make up the family Aetalionidae and Melizoderidae, they have multiple subfamilies. Each subfamily displays unique physical features, including sharpshooters, which excrete brochosomes and can spread plant diseases.

Conversely, leafhoppers and their relatives, like spittlebugs and froghoppers, produce a frothy substance called spittle. This protects their nymphs from predators and dehydration. Although helpful for the insect, the spittle can act as a reservoir for pathogens.

Now, let’s see how plants deal with these potential threats. Plants have a variety of defenses against pests like treehoppers and leafhoppers, as well as the pathogens they may transfer.

  • Structural defenses: Rigid plant structures that deter feeding and shelter-building by the pests.
  • Chemical defenses: Compounds produced in the plant that may repel or harm the insects, reducing their feeding and population growth.
  • Protein-based defenses: These responses detect invading organisms and work to prevent extensive damage to the plant.

One example of indirect plant defense is volatile organic compounds released by the plants. These compounds attract beneficial predators that feed on the pests, thereby reducing pest populations. However, this tactic may not be successful in all situations, as some pests can overcome the chemical barriers.

In conclusion, the relationship between treehoppers, leafhoppers, and their respective plant hosts is complex. While these insects have developed various survival techniques, plants have also adapted to protect themselves from potential damage and pathogens.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, 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 – Keeled Treehopper Nymphs


Black spiny bug killed my tomato plant Sat, Apr 4, 2009 at 10:52 PM
Dear bugman,
These black spiny creatures annihilated our tomato plant. Swarmed all over it. We’re kinda lazy gardeners, so we just let them. They also killed the wooden bunny that was resting on the tomato plant. Poor bunny never had a chance.
Silver Lake, Los Angeles, CA

Keeled Treehopper Nymphs
Keeled Treehopper Nymphs

Sat, Apr 4, 2009 at 11:11 PM
Woops! I should have googled first. I realize that I just sent you pictures of Keeled Treehoppers. “Black spiny tomato pest” did the trick. Thanks anyway.

Hi Josh,
We are happy to see you correctly identified your Treehopper nymphs.  We find them to be most troublesome on our tomato plants in the fall and winter.  We have noticed huge colonies of the spiny numphs on the woody stems of our plants in the fall, and we rarely have issues with Treehoppers on our young tomato plants.  This pestiferous species is also a problem with peppers, eggplant and other solanaceous plants.

May 17, 2011
Hi Daniel,
So I’ve had worse infestations, but the treehoppers have definitely moved in on a pair of tomato plants that wintered over.  I’ve been going at them by hand and with hose blasts but I think the soap/oil/hot pepper/garlic attempts are next.
I also advise, with gloves, pulling off any leaves that are dead or yellowing and working to separate the tomato branches which might require additional infrastructure.  These bad guys tend to congregate where leaves overlap and they can vampire the plant without fear of predators.  I am hoping that the work I did to “trellis” the plants this evening will make for easier hunting.  I did snap off a few branches accidentally, but I can live with that.
I have another suggestion as well:
Great pic.  I think you should also post a pic of a ladybug nymph on the same page… someone in their first season growing, after seeing the pic above, is unlikely to know they’re looking at a ladybug, which might be on the same plant.  Compare the keel-backed nymph on your site to:
I’m sure you have some ladybug nymph pics to pull from too, but thought this one really makes the case.  It suggests an evolutionary disguise on the treehopper’s part.
David Wolfberg

Thanks for the idea David.  We imagine many of our readers might confuse the larvae of the Lady Beetle with the noxious Keeled Treehopper Nymphs that proliferate on tomatoes and related plants, especially during the winter months.  We find that they are most plentiful on plants that we allow to continue to grow through the winter, and we never have such problems on new seedling tomato plants.  We are placing your comment on this posting since you don’t have a photo to accompany your comment.

Letter 2 – Keelbacked Treehopper Nymphs


help with ID
Location: southern California
May 30, 2011 1:08 pm
I found this bug living on a plant called lochroma in my yard. I don’t remember seeing this bug before. They are grouped up on the stems of the plant and where the stems branch out. There is a steady steam of ants coming and going to the clusters of this bug. I sprayed with neem oil yesterday but they look fine and healthy today.
Signature: Scott

Keelbacked Treehopper Nymphs

Hi Scott,
Our suspicions that you have an infestation of Keel Backed Treehopper nymphs,
Antianthe expansa, was confirmed when we substantiated that your plant, lochroma, is a member of the family Solanaceae which contains tomato, pepper and eggplant.  We have periodical infestations on our tomato plants in Los Angeles, especially plants that have overwintered.  Adult Keelbacked Treehoppers are bright green.  There is some good information on this Backyard Garden page.  The ants are attracted to the honeydew produced by the Treehopper nymphs.

Keelbacked Treehopper Nymph

Letter 3 – Immature Keeled Tree Hoppers


I want to identify this bug
Mon, Dec 1, 2008 at 12:46 PM
I thought ants were eating something on a stem of my tomato plants – a lot of bugs together in one black spot – upon further investigation, they were these little spikey aphid looking things – photo included – can you tell me what these bugs are – I have gardened in CA for 40 years and have never seen these bugs – they don’t seem to be causing any damage that I can see – thanks
i don’t care
Orange County California

Keeled Tree Hopper Nymphs
Keeled Tree Hopper Nymphs

Dear i don’t care,
These are immature Keeled Tree Hoppers, Antianthe expansa.  The adults are winged green insects.  Both immature nymphs and adults are plant sucking insects that may spread viral infections to your garden plants.  This species is most fond of the solanaceous plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.  The ants “farm” the immature Keeled Tree Hoppers to milk the honeydew from the insects much the same way they farm aphids.  In our own Los Angeles garden, we tend to find the immature Keeled Tree Hoppers on our mature tomato plants in autumn and winter where they congregate on the woodier stems beneath the leaves.

Letter 4 – Hopper from Australia


Subject:  I found a cool bug and i would like to know its name
Geographic location of the bug:  Northern Rivers NSW Australia
Date: 09/22/2017
Time: 08:04 AM EDT
Hello Bugman,
I found this cool bug on my desk and I was very curious about its name
(scientific name that is, not his given name (Rufus))
he is my son now
he’s cool
How you want your letter signed:  rufus’ concerned mother

Rufus, a Free-Living Hemipteran

Dear Rufus’ Concerned Mother,
Rufus is a good looking bug.  The best we can provide at this time is that Rufus is a Free-Living Hemipteran, and many of their suborder Auchenorrhyncha are known as Hoppers.  Hoppers are plant suckers that can pose a threat to some agricultural industries.  We did not locate Rufus on the Brisbane Insect site.

Letter 5 – Hopper Insect from Indonesia


Subject: greeny and seahorse nose bug
Location: bekasi, indonesia
November 30, 2014 7:11 am
i found this bug on my bed..
fly quite fast and about 1 cm long
Mr Bugman.. what is this ? 🙂
Signature: tm

Free Living Hemipteran
Free Living Hemipteran

Dear tm,
This is some species of Free Living Hemipteran, probably a Treehopper or Leafhopper.  We will attempt to locate some matching images online.  Your description is very appropriate.

Letter 6 – Hopper from Malaysia


Subject: Bug identification
Location: Selangor, Malaysia
March 2, 2014 7:56 am
Hi bugman
I’m Sham from Malaysia…do you know what kind of bug this is ? I shoot it this past february on banana tree nearby the lake…is it planthopper species…? thanks.
Signature: Shamsul Hidayat Omar


Dear Shamsul,
This is a Free Living Hemipteran in the suborder Auchenorrhyncha
, however, beyond that, we are unable at this time to provide a more specific taxonomy.  The suborder Auchenorrhyncha includes Planthoppers, Leafhoppers, Treehoppers, Cicadas and many other Free Living Hemipterans.  We feel safe in calling this a Hopper, but that common term does not coincide with any particular family within the suborder.

Letter 7 – Hopper Nymph from India


Subject: Pls identify this bug
Location: Kottaya District,KeralaState, India
July 31, 2012 12:01 am
Could you Pls identify this bug ? . I took this pictures.
Signature: Honestly speaking, I donno what it means 😀

Hopper Nymph

This is the nymph of one of the Hoppers in the insect order Homoptera.

Dear Daniel Marlos
Thank you for prompt reply and cooperation. I was struggling to get some information about the bug.Your reply helped me a lot !! .  You are doing a great service to persons like me. May God bless you 🙂 🙂
Have A NiceDay 🙂
Keep In Touch 🙂

Letter 8 – Hopper Nymph from India


Subject: What’s this strange insect?
Location: Chennai,India
February 21, 2013 12:28 pm
Hello Bugman,
Attaching image of insect that I photographed in my garden in the month of September. Can you help identify this insect?
Signature: Seema Swami

Hopper Nymph
Hopper Nymph

Hi Seema,
This is some type of Hopper nymph and it might be very difficult to identify to the species level.  It does resemble some of the members of the family pictured on the Brisbane Insect website.


Letter 9 – Hopper on Milkweed


Subject: Daniel – More Bugs on Mexican Milkweed
Location: Hawthorne, CA
November 29, 2012 11:42 am
I know this photo is blurry, but I found these eggs on the back of one of the Mexican Milkweed leaves the other morning. There were three or four of those little gray bugs there at the same time. All but one left before I got the camera out and focused(?). Any idea what they are?
Signature: Thanks, Anna Carreon

Hemipteran Hatchling

Hi Anna,
The insect in the lower left corner appears to belong to the order Hemiptera which includes True Bugs as well as Hoppers.  Hatchlings are often quite difficult to identify to the species level.  This critter looks to us to be one of the Hoppers, though we cannot be certain.

Hi Daniel,
That’s what I was afraid of.  Oh, well.  Guess we have to take some of the bad along with the good, eh?

Letter 10 – Immature Wattle Hopper from Australia


Jumping insect, Sydney, Australia
February 11, 2010
G’day, I live in Sydney Australia and my workplace is surrounded by bush, and every lunch time our lunch tables outside have these little brown bugs that jump when the long spikes/hairs/not sure what they are, are touched. They are well camouflaged, about 10mm long and fast (when they jump). Do you have any idea of what they are? Cheers, Angela
Angela, Bug enthusiast
Marsfield, Sydney, Australia

Wattle Hopper Nymph

Dear Angela,
Your photos are of an immature Gum Hopper or Wattle Hopper in the family Eurybrachyidae.  The Brisbane Insect Website has numerous species depicted, and all have similar nymphs or immature stages.

Wattle Hopper Nymph

Letter 11 – Indonesian Hopper: Fulgoroidea


What’s this Beauty?
Dear Buggy,
I live in Singapore, a tropical island in South East Asia. I found this tiny beauty on my garden table one day. It’s so beautiful and wish to share with all of you but wonder what this is. Please help.

Hi Joe,
Though we don’t have an exact species for you, we can tell you this is a species of Hopper in the order Homoptera.

Update: (01/11/2007)
bug images on WTB
Dear Bugman,
I enjoyed visiting your site. It really doesn’t compete with, since you have posted lots of foreign insects that they bar from that site. For example, you have some really nice photos of the primitive treehopper Aetalion (which is tropical). I thought you might like to know about the following:
(1) The “Indonesian hopper” is an immature planthopper, Fulgoroidea. The wax “tails” are quite distinctive for these bugs.
Thanks for helping to spread an interest in Homoptera. We need to encourage the amateur. I have been collecting photos of Homoptera for research and education purposes. I would request permission to use images on your Web site, with appropriate credit, for scientific papers and identification guides. So far I have more than 940 selected images. Please let me know the best way to contact your contributors to obtain their permission.
Andy Hamilton

Hi Andy,
We really appreciate all of the identifications you have provided for us. Sadly, we do not keep records of all the people who have written to our site and have no way of contacting them again.

Letter 12 – Hopper Nymph from Brazil with Ant


amazing Bug
Tue, May 12, 2009 at 6:46 AM
Hi, I’ve found this kind of bug at Brasilia/DF (BRAZIL), and I’ve never found this in another place. This insect has +/- 5mm and lives on the fences around the grass.
Rui José
Brasília/DF- BRAZIL

Tree Hopper Nymph with Ant (bicho e formiga)
Tree Hopper Nymph with Ant (bicho e formiga)

Dear Rui José,
This is an immature Homopteran, probably a Tree Hopper in the family Membracidae. They exude a sweet substance known as honeydew which attracts the ants.

Correction: Mon, May 18, 2009 at 1:46 PM
Hi Daniel:
The Membracid nymph from Brazil is in the genus Membracis, probably M. lunata (= foliata). I’m clueless on the ant, Regards.

Wow Karl,
The adult on the link you provided is equally as impressive as the nymph.

Letter 13 – Horned Treehopper nymph from Australia


Subject: Unknown Bug
Location: Fremantle Western Australia
October 8, 2012 9:59 pm
can you please help with the ID of this bug.
It is from the S/W of Western Australia, Spring time.
It is about 10mm long, slow moving.

Horned Treehopper nymph

Hi Rob,
We are very rarely so puzzled by a submission that we cannot pin down an order.  This is undoubtedly a nymph, the immature phase of an insect with incomplete metamorphosis.  We suspect it is likely a Hemipteran, a member of the order with sucking mouthparts that includes True Bugs and Cicadas, but it doesn’t resemble any nymph we have seen before.  The Brisbane Insect website will be a great place to begin searching.  The closest match we can find would indicate it might be a Horned Treehopper nymph in the family Membracidae based on the large photo on family page on the Brisbane Insect Website which is identified as the Acacia Treehopper.  While we don’t believe that is your species, the nymphs pictured on the Brisbane Insect website of the Acacia Treehopper,
Sextius virescens, look quite similar to your specimen.

Treehopper nymph

Hi Daniel,
Thanks for the detailed answer, I am very happy with this as I had no idea where to start with this one. Please pass on my thanks to your team.
Robert Keen
Supervisor, Horticulture
Parks and Gardens
Curtin University

Letter 14 – Immature Keel-Backed Treehopper


What Bug is This? He’s black/orange with spikes and armor: I call him stud bug
Hi Bugman,
Here’s one that has me stumped! What bug is this? I’ve searched the internet but to no avail. I’ve attached a picture for you. It’s a social but that usually groups in 3-4 on my tomato plant. They are very quick and are intelligent enough to move away from my line of sight and hide behind the other side of the vine. At first I thought it was a lady bug larva but the pictures I did find didn’t match. Any thoughts? I’m, sorry, WE are located in Redondo Beach, CA. Thank you so much! If there is no name, I still suggest Stud Bug.
Best wishes,

Hi Casey,
This is an immature Keel-Backed Treehopper. Adults are green and fly. These insects are related to aphids and suck juices from plants. We find very large colonies on the woody stems of our old tomato plants in the winter.

The insect labelled as the “keel-backed leafhopper” is actually an immature membracid (treehopper) in the family Membracidae. Adults tend to look nothing like the nymphs, as they lose all those fine spines and spikes in most cases.
Eric [Eaton]

Thanks for the information Eric. We based that ID on Hogue’s book Insects of the Los Angeles Basin. Hogue identifies the Keelbacked Treehopper, Antianthe expansa, as feeding on solanaceous plants. When I checked Bugguide, the common name of Keeled Tree Hopper is used for the same species where it is listed as being in the family Membracidae. We mistakenly referred to it as a Leafhopper instead of a Treehopper.

Letter 15 – Immature Keelbacked Treehoppers


on my eggplant
These bugs are freaking me out! They are crawling up my eggplant plants. As you can see, they look like double decker armored ants. They are with an ant in this photo and they seem to live peacefully with the ants except that I don’t know what’s happening with that ant which looks a little like it is in midair and I’m not sure why. The plants have ants on them too. I am scared of these bugs! Should I be? Will they eat the eggplants? I finally have a couple eggplants on the plants and I am looking forward to eating them myself and I don’t want to share with weird looking bugs.
Please advise.
Lisa in Los Angeles

Dear Lisa,
You have immature Keelbacked Treehoppers, Antianthe expansa, which often infest eggplants and other solanaceous plants like tomatoes and peppers. They will not eat your eggplants, but they will suck the juices from the plant stems. Treehoppers are related to aphids and also have a symbiotic relationship with ants. The Treehoppers secrete honeydew from their anuses and the ants love to lap up the sweet treat. The immature Keelbacked Treehoppers are quite spiny and can pinch. The adults are green and winged. When they feed on the plant juices with their sucking mouthparts, they sometimes spread viruses to the plants. They are injurious and should be eliminated from the garden either with soapy water, or our favorite method, squashing.

Letter 16 – Immature Keelbacked Treehoppers


Subject:  Unknown bug, thornbug?
Geographic location of the bug:  Oceanside, CA
Date: 03/13/2018
Time: 11:09 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I would love to know the ID of this tiny alien-looking bug.  I  found thousands of these bugs on a bush in my yard in June of last year.  They are less than a 1/4 inch long.
How you want your letter signed:  Heidi G

Immature Keel-Backed Treehoppers

Dear Heidi,
Though you did not specify what type of bush in your yard you found these immature Keel-Backed Treehoppers living upon, we are speculating they were feeding by sucking the fluids from a tomato plant, pepper plant or some other member of the family Solanaceae.  Here is a BugGuide image for comparison.

Letter 17 – Immature Thorn Treehoppers


Subject: Beetle
Location: Ft. Pierce, Fl
December 5, 2013 2:46 pm
These bugs are eating my shrub. Do you know what they are?
Signature: Vicki Rumley

Thorn Treehopper Nymphs
Thorn Treehopper Nymphs

Hi Vicki,
These are immature Thorn Treehoppers,
Umbonia crassicornis, and once they mature, they grow wings and can fly.  According to BugGuide:  “Numerous legumes and other ornamental and fruit trees” and “Both young and adults feed on the same trees. Many times both are found together in clusters on branches.”  BugGuide also notes:  “The female actively tends her brood or colony of 15-50 individuals”

Letter 18 – Immature Treehopper from Belize


Belizian Bug
January 25, 2010
I found this bug January 10th 2009, on edge of clearing in the Chiqual Rainforest. There where several ranging in length from 1 to 2cm in length.
Also I am sorry If i already sent you this before but I am not sure if my last message got sent.

Immature Treehopper

Hi Becky,
This is an immature Free Living Hemipteran, probably a Treehopper in the family Membracidae.  We will try to find a species match for you.  Here is a link to a photo of a North American species posted to BugGuide.

Letter 19 – Immature Unknown Treehopper


Second attempt: please help!
Hello bugman,
Love the new site layout. Great job!
This is my second attempt at identifying this bug. I have searched and searched, and can not find it anywhere, including other websites. I found this bug while pulling weeds in a mulched landscape bed in Wichita, Kansas back in June ’08.
My guess is that it is some kind of juvenile or nymph, but I have no clue as to what kind. It was very thin bodied, and had kind of reddish colored eyes.
I have video of it walking around in case you’re interested.
Thanks in advance,
Brandon Clark
Wichita, KS

Unknown Treehopper Nymph
Unknown Treehopper Nymph

Hi Brandon,
This is an immature Treehopper in the family Membracidae. We went through the submissions on BugGuide, but did not see a match. Perhaps someone will recognize your specimen and write in with a comment.

Letter 20 – Keel-Backed Treehopper Nymphs infest Okra


Subject: vegetable killing bug
Location: Tustin Ca, Orange county
August 24, 2013 8:23 pm
this bug is killing my vegetable garden ( on an okra plant in picture). what is it and what can I do to get rid of it?
Signature: Curtis

Keel-Backed Treehopper Nymphs
Keel-Backed Treehopper Nymphs

Dear Curtis,
You have an infestation of Keel-Backed Treehopper nymphs,
Antianthe expansa, and they can be very difficult to eradicate once they have gotten established in a garden.  They feed on plants in the family Solanacea which included many garden favorites like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.  Okra is in the mallow family and we had not heard of it being a preferred host plant for the Keel-Backed Treehoppers in the past.   There are many online sources for information in this garden pest, including GardenWeb and Am I Bugging You Yet? which is specifically devoted to sightings in Tustin.  The best control is to keep the population in check by looking for adult green Keel-Backed Treehoppers which can fly from garden to garden.  The nymphs tend to feed in groups and they are very aware of potential predators, hiding on the other side of the twig when approached.  These Treehoppers, like other plant feeding Hemipterans, do not damage the plants by chewing.  Rather they suck the nourishing juices from the plants.  Spraying the plants with mild soapy water might help with the problem, but if your plants have already produced their crop, you might be best to remove the plants, being careful to not spread the mobile insects to other areas in your garden.

Letter 21 – Keelbacked Treehopper


Help with identifying a bug???
Help! I’ve seen these before, a long time ago, but now they’re suddenly ALL over my tomato and pepper seedlings… What are they, what evil are they doing to all my seedlings, and what’s my best bet for getting rid of them? Thank you so much in advance!
Kim Dryden
San Diego Lock & Safe

Hi Kim,
This is a Keelbacked Treehopper, Antianthe expansa. They are found on eggplants and other solanaceous plants as well as peppers and tomatoes. They are sucking insects that will drain your plants of vital fluids. Infestations are especially injurious to young plants. They immature stage of the insect is black and spiny, and they form large colonies, sometimes accompanied by adults. We remove them manually from our garden and squash them mercilessly, though soapy water will probably help.

Letter 22 – Keelbacked Treehopper


hey bugman!
…found this on my desk today after bringing some potted plants indoors. He was making a really loud, fussing clatter with his tiny wings (as you can see my fingernail dwarfes him) and but surprisingly he didn’t care so much when i scooped him up with a business card. any idea? i’ve never seen anything like it.
los angeles

Hi Pete,
This is one of the Keelbacked Treehoppers. They often infest our tomato plants.

Letter 23 – Keelbacked Treehopper


Subject: Type of green bug?
Location: San Gabriel valley area
November 27, 2013 2:23 pm
We found about 20 of these bugs (about a quarter of an inch long) among some tomato plants. At first we thought we’d come across ladybug larvae but saw that the casings actually had ”spiky things” (as my 6-year old called it) coming out of them. It’s not until we examined the casings further that we saw these green bugs among the tomato stalks.
My son asked what types of bugs they were (I’m pretty good at identifying most bugs) but this one had me stumped. I thought it was some type of leaf cutter bug, but when I looked it up, all I found were Leaf Cutter Ants.
Signature: ?

Keelbacked Treehopper
Keelbacked Treehopper

The Keelbacked Treehopper, Antianthe expansa, is a significant garden pest on tomato and other plants in the family, including eggplant and peppers.  The spiny insects you describe are the immature nymphs.  Both adults and nymphs have piercing mouthparts adapted to sucking nutrient rich fluids from the plants.

Letter 24 – Keeled Treehopper Nymph


Subject: Found this bug on tomato plants
Location: Southern California in the Long Beach area
December 26, 2012 11:24 pm
Found this bug on tomato plants we were removing. Found in southern California in the Long Beach area. Pictures were taken 11/22/2012. Do you know what this bug is?
Signature: From Thymej

Keeled Treehopper Nymph

Dear Thymej,
You have submitted photos of a Keeled Treehopper Nymph,
Antianthe expansa, and we suspect you did not find an individual on your tomato plants.  Nymphs of the Keeled Treehopper generally live in colonies and they are very wary of humans trying to remove them.  Often the entire colony moves together to the other side of the stem.  The nymphs look very different from adults which are green.  Both adults and nymphs have spiny projections which make them difficult to crush, and also makes them quite unpalatable to birds.  Keeled Treehoppers feed by sucking juices and fluids from tomato plants and others in the family, including peppers and eggplant.  There is an excellent account on Garden Web

Letter 25 – Keeled Treehoppers


next to Aphids
December 25, 2009
Hey, found these triangular green “leaf” bugs next to aphids. Are they good predators or bad adults? Thanks,
Southern California

Keeled Treehoppers
Keeled Treehoppers

Dear Kiloh,
These are adult Keeled Treehoppers, Antianthe expansa, a common garden pest in California and Arizona.  The adults and spiny nymphs, which we believe you may have mistaken for aphids, feed on tomato plants, pepper plants and other related solanaceous plants.  They feed by sucking the juices from the plants.  You can see some nice images on BugGuide.  While looking for potential links, we stumbled upon Vanessa cardui’s wonderful blog, Am I Bugging You Yet? that features bug sightings in and around Tustin, California.

Thanks! Other than a soap wash (or removing the plant) are there any other organic approaches to treating the problem?  PS you folks are great!!

Personally, we hand pick and squash them in our own garden, though they are a bit spiny.  Soapy water should work fine.


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12 thoughts on “Treehopper vs Leafhopper: Uncovering Their Unique Differences”

  1. Gosh, as annoying as they might be (they don’t understand ownership of plants) they really are fascinating to look at, even pretty.

  2. I’m fairly certain this is a plant hopper in the family Dictyopharidae. There are plenty of species known from Indonesia, but many seem to be similar in appearance. They’re definitely cool little guys, aren’t they?

  3. Question can these treehopper nymphs be red? I live in Arizona and for 3 years I have been fighting red nymphs that look just like these. The adults look exactly the same also. Ants seem to love them and are all around them in their clusters. Is there a symbiotic relationship with the treehoppers and ants as there is with aphids and ants?

  4. I’m assuming that you would be ok with exterminating bed bugs. I must admit they are clever, but I would rather not share my blood with them. How are they beneficial to the world? I had to go cold turkey from your website some years ago because it is SO interesting. But then I came across an amazing site by googling treehopperinsects location. Oh dear!


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