Types of Leafhoppers: A Friendly Guide to Identification

Leafhoppers are an intriguing group of insects known for their vibrant colors and distinct hopping abilities. You might come across various types of leafhoppers in your garden or nearby natural habitats, such as the red-banded leafhopper (Graphocephala coccinea) with its bright red and blue markings on the wings and thorax, and the aster leafhopper (Macrosteles fascifrons), responsible for spreading aster yellows disease to various plants.

As you explore the world of leafhoppers, you’ll discover that they belong to a large and diverse family. Each species brings unique features and poses different challenges when it comes to pest management. For example, the potato leafhopper (Empoasca fabae) is a significant pest for over 200 plants, including food crops like potatoes, beans, and cucumbers.

As you learn more about these fascinating creatures, keep in mind their various roles in ecosystems and our agriculture, and remember to appreciate their diverse characteristics that make them stand out in the insect world.

Physiology of Leafhoppers

Color and Size

Leafhoppers come in various colors, such as green, yellow, and brown. Their size ranges from 1/8 to 1/2-inch long, depending on the species. For example, the two-spotted leafhopper is brightly colored, while the aster leafhopper has a duller shade of brown or gray.

Anatomy

These insects have interesting anatomical features. Their hind legs have one or more rows of small spines on the tibiae (“shins”) which you can use to distinguish them from similar species. Leafhoppers possess piercing-sucking mouthparts that allow them to suck out plant sap. Additionally, their antennae help them navigate their surroundings.

Key features of leafhoppers:

  • Hind legs with rows of small spines
  • Piercing-sucking mouthparts for feeding
  • Antennae for detecting their environment

Life Cycle

The life cycle of leafhoppers consists of three stages – egg, nymph, and adult:

  1. Egg: Adult leafhoppers lay their eggs on plant tissue. Some species even overwinter in the egg stage.
  2. Nymph: After hatching, the wingless nymphs emerge and begin feeding on plants.
  3. Adult: Once they complete their development, nymphs transform into adults and start the cycle again by laying eggs.

Throughout their life cycle, leafhoppers can cause damage to a variety of plants, making them a concern for gardeners and farmers alike. By understanding their physiology and life cycle, you can better protect your plants and keep these insects in check.

Leafhopper Species

Empoasca Fabae

Empoasca fabae is commonly known as the potato leafhopper. This insect is a member of the Cicadellidae family, also known as leafhoppers. They are tiny, ranging from one-eighth to one-fourth inch long. This species goes through three life stages: egg, nymph, and adult. Some characteristics of the potato leafhopper include:

  • Feeding on various plants, primarily potatoes
  • Causing damage through their piercing-sucking mouthparts

As a result, it is essential to monitor your plants for signs of damage and take preventive measures if needed.

Cicadellidae Family

The Cicadellidae family is a broad group of insects, including various species of leafhoppers, treehoppers, and planthoppers. These insects have existed for millions of years, with some fossils dating back to the lower Cretaceous period (125 million years ago). The main features of this family are:

  • A large variety of species with diverse body forms
  • Hopping ability due to their powerful hind legs
  • Sap-sucking behavior as a primary feeding method

Some species in the Cicadellidae family are brightly colored, while others appear in shades of brown, gray, green, or tan.

True Bugs and Cicadas

True bugs are insects belonging to the order Hemiptera, which also includes cicadas. Leafhoppers, treehoppers, and planthoppers all fall under this order, along with their relatives, sharpshooters. They have some similar features:

  • Piercing-sucking mouthparts for extracting plant sap
  • Hemelytra wings (partly hardened, partly membranous)
  • Incomplete metamorphosis (egg, nymph, adult stages)

A comparison of some Hemiptera subgroups:

Subgroup Size Appearance Key Features
Leafhoppers 1/6 – 1/4 inch Parallel-sided or tapering body, various colors Rows of spines on hind legs
Treehoppers 1/4 – 1/2 inch Bulbous head, some mimic thorns or plant stems Pronotum extended over the abdomen
Planthoppers 1/5 – 1/2 inch Flattened body, some resemble leaves or bark Large hind legs for jumping
Sharpshooters 1/6 – 1/2 inch Bright or dull colors, large heads relative to the body Vector certain plant diseases

By understanding the variety and characteristics of different leafhopper species, you can take appropriate action in detecting and protecting your plants from potential harm.

Behavior and Habits

Feeding

Leafhoppers feed on various plants by sucking sap from them. They use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to extract plant sap, which might lead to yellowing and wilting of the plants. As they feed, they excrete a sticky waste product called honeydew, which can attract ants. Some leafhoppers can also transmit diseases to plants such as the aster yellows.

Mobility

Leafhoppers are known for their jumping abilities. Their hind legs are equipped with rows of small spines that help them to hop and move quickly. This mobility helps them escape predators and travel to new food sources.

Comparison Table:

Leafhoppers Other Insects
Jumping Crawling
Hind leg spines Standard legs

Reproduction

Leafhopper females go through a series of life stages before becoming adults. These stages include:

  • Egg
  • Nymph
  • Adult

The eggs are laid singly in leaf tissue, typically in the epidermal tissue on the underside of leaves. This ensures that the young nymphs will have easy access to food sources as they emerge.

Social Interactions

Leafhoppers have unique social interactions due to a specialized secretion called brochosomes. These are tiny, granular particles that help protect the insects from predators and maintain their cleanliness. Leafhoppers cover themselves and their eggs with brochosomes, protecting them from parasitic fungi and other threats.

In summary, leafhoppers have fascinating habits and behaviors related to their feeding, mobility, reproduction, and social interactions. Understanding these behaviors can help in managing the impact of these pests in agricultural and gardening practices.

Habitats

Tree Dwellers

Various leafhoppers reside on trees, where their host plants are often green and diverse. Some of these tree-dwelling leafhoppers feed on willow, oak, and elm trees, among others. Leafhoppers are attracted to these trees due to their nutritious sap, and you’ll often find them feeding on leaves or hiding behind bark.

Examples of tree-dwelling leafhoppers include:

  • Willow Leafhopper: Prefers willow trees.
  • Oak Leafhopper: Found on oak trees.

Vegetable And Flower Pests

Leafhoppers are a common pest on vegetables and flowers. They can cause considerable damage to crops like potatoes, tomatoes, and asters, as well as flowers such as roses. These insects feed on the sap of their host plants, leading to yellowing and dwarfing of plants, distorted foliage, and abnormal production of shoots.

Their impact on vegetable and flower plants include:

Weeds and Unwanted Plants

Leafhoppers can also take advantage of weeds and other unwanted plants as host plants for feeding and reproduction. This particularly pertains to species that overwinter as adults, such as the grape leafhopper. These insects use weeds and other unwanted plants for shelter during harsh months, ensuring their survival until the weather improves. This also creates an opportunity for their populations to rebound and increase, allowing them to potentially become more troublesome pests.

Some common weeds that host leafhoppers:

  • Milkweed
  • Goldenrod
  • Pigweed

In conclusion, leafhoppers inhabit a variety of host plants, from trees to vegetables, flowers, and weeds. Knowing their preferred habitats can help you manage their populations and protect your plants from their potentially damaging effects.

Damage and Impact

Plant Diseases and Disorders

Leafhoppers, both nymphs and adults, can cause a range of plant diseases and disorders. They feed on plant sap, which can lead to stunted growth, curling and yellowing of leaves. Other symptoms include spots, white spots, browning, and stippling on affected plants. For example, the potato leafhopper and beet leafhopper can cause hopperburn, which presents as irregular brown spots and curled leaves.

Agricultural Pests

Certain species of leafhoppers, such as the potato leafhopper, beet leafhopper, and rose leafhopper, are considered agricultural pests. These leafhoppers can result in significant damage to a wide variety of crops and plants, potentially causing an infestation that decreases yield and crop quality.

Transmission of Diseases

Leafhoppers are vectors for transmitting plant diseases like viruses and bacteria. They can spread diseases such as curly top, which is caused by a virus and can have a dramatic impact on crops like tomatoes, peppers, and beets. This is particularly worrisome as leafhoppers can quickly transmit diseases from one plant to another during their feeding.

Excrement and Honeydew

As they feed on plant sap, leafhoppers produce excrement in the form of honeydew. This sticky waste can attract other pests and cause the growth of sooty mold on plants. Honeydew can also lead to the spread of plant diseases, as it provides a breeding ground for various pathogens.

To sum up, leafhoppers, in their nymph and adult stages, can cause various types of damage to plants. They contribute to plant diseases and disorders, act as agricultural pests, transmit diseases, and create issues through their excrement and production of honeydew.

Control and Management

Chemical Control

To control leafhoppers chemically, you can use insecticidal soap or other appropriate insecticides. For instance, acephate is one potent chemical you can use as a spray. Follow the label before applying any pesticide.

Pros:

  • Quick results
  • Effective leafhopper control

Cons:

  • Possible negative impact on beneficial insects
  • Chemical resistance may develop

Biological Control

You can also opt for biological control methods to manage leafhoppers. Beneficial insects, such as spiders, lacewings, and parasitoids, play a vital role in reducing leafhopper populations. Encourage these natural predators by providing a suitable habitat in your garden.

Cultural Control

Cultural control methods can assist you in managing leafhopper populations. Ensure regular inspection of plant leaves, especially the undersides, where adults and nymphs are likely to be present. Remove any unhealthy or infested plants and keep your garden clean and well-ventilated.

Apply physical barriers like row covers to protect your vulnerable plants. Remember that the appropriate timing is crucial for successful leafhopper control.

Integrated Pest Management

An integrated pest management (IPM) approach combines chemical, biological, and cultural control methods for optimal results. It involves monitoring leafhopper populations, making well-informed decisions, and using multiple strategies to tackle the problem effectively.

To summarize, your IPM plan for leafhoppers might include:

  • Regular monitoring
  • Usage of insecticidal soap or recommended sprays
  • Encouragement of beneficial insects
  • Utilization of cultural control methods like row covers
  • A balanced combination of all the above practices

By following this comprehensive approach, you’ll be able to manage leafhoppers effectively in your garden while minimizing any negative impacts.

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 – Unknown Chinese Hemipteran identified as Lycorma delicatula

 

Red Bug with White Spots
June 11, 2009
My son describes these bugs that are outside his apartment building (second to last entry in the website noted below). I usually don’t like bugs but these are very beautiful. They jump on his head and shoulders! You can read more and perhaps see clearer images at the website below.
http://grahamwoodring.com/
Christine
Xi’an China

Unknown Hemipteran from China
Lycorma delictula from China

Hi Christine,
We were out of town when your email arrived, and we never answered hundreds of emails in that time.  We are absolutely fascinated by these unknown Hemipterans, the insect order that includes True Bugs and various Hoppers.  We hope one of our readers will be able to assist in this unusual identification.  We agree that they are quite beautiful.

Unknown Hemipteran from China
Lycorma delictula from China

Update from Eric Eaton
Daniel:
The Chinese leafhopper is likely something in the Fulguroidea, and Lois O’Brien could probably tell you which one.  I think you have gone to her before, right?  Let me know if not and I’ll introduce you via e-mail.
Eric

Update from Karl
July 28, 2009
Daniel:
It looks like Eric Eaton is right again. I haven’t been able to identify the fulgoromorph nymph, but I did come across a photo that looks pretty much identical. The image is from a collection posted by the California Academy of Sciences, taken on a field trip to Yunnan Province. Regards.
Karl

Another Update from Karl
Unknown Chinese Hemipteran
July 31, 2009
Daniel:
I dug a little deeper and found an interesting story behind this handsome creature.  The species is Lycorma delictula (Family Fulgoridae : Subfamily Aphaeninae) and it has the erroneous common name White Cicada. Originally from southern China, it has been on the move recently and appears to have made quite a nuisance of itself outside of its natural range, particularly on the Korean Peninsula. I even found one reference in a report on China-Korea trade relations where it was referred to as “adding insult to injury”. It makes a living by sucking tree sap. Regards.
Karl

Letter 2 – Unknown Freeliving Hemipteran from Peru

 

What’s that jungle insect?!
December 31, 2009
I was walking through the jungles in Peru this summer when I noticed these insects on a small plant. Their long, white, fuzzy antennae-like protrusions could move independently of one another, and moved quite a bit when I moved quickly toward them or made a loud noise. There appeared to be a bead of some sort of fluid at the point where these strange “antennae” connected to the insects’ heads. Also, these white antennae-like things also seemed to be growing from the bottoms of the leaves of the plant, as if the insects were harvesting them and carrying them on their head like antennae.
I also have a short video showing the way in which they move, if that would be any help. Thanks!
The Monkey Whisperer
Manu National Reserve, Peru

Unknown Hemipteran
Unknown Hemipteran

Dear Monkey Whisperer,
We wish your photo was more detailed, revealing the anatomy of an individual, but alas, it is not so.  We are guessing that this is some species of Free Living Hemipteran, perhaps a Treehopper, Leafhopper, or Aphid, but we are uncertain as to the family, much less the genus or species.  Perhaps one of our readers has more information.  We believe they are immature specimens which could mean the adult looks quite different.  We also believe the antennae you describe are wax filaments which are produced by many Hemipterans.

Letter 3 – Unknown Hemipteran feeding on tree in Idaho

 

Subject: What’s that bug??
Location: Coeur d alene idaho
May 28, 2017 10:33 am
My tree out front has these bug eggs all around the outside of it. The leaves are turning black and seems to be leaving the sidewalk underneath it sticky. I think they might be ladybugs? What are they and how do I save my tree?
Signature: Concerned citizen

Hemipterans

Dear Concerned Citizen,
We are unable to provide you with a species identification, but we can tell you that these are not eggs.  They are plant feeding insects in the order Hemiptera, and all Hemipterans, a group that includes Scale Insects and Aphids, have mouths designed to pierce and suck fluids, which is why your tree is ailing.  Also, many Hemipterans secrete honeydew, which is why the sidewalk is sticky.  Are you able to identify the tree?  Knowing the plant host is often a tremendous asset when trying to identify insects.

Hemipterans

Letter 4 – Unknown Hemipteran from Borneo, we believe

 

Strange Giraffe Bug

Possibly a Leaf Hopper

Strange Giraffe Bug
Location: Madai, Kunak, Sabah, Malaysia, Borneo
January 13, 2011 2:54 am
Hi Mr. Bugman,
I found this strange looking bug with long neck in a rain forest reserve in Malaysia called Pusat Sejadi Hutan Simpan Baturong Kunak. I found it near the waterfall. Can you help me out with this bug?
Signature: C.X Wong

Possibly a Leaf Hopper

Dear C.X. Wong,
We believe this is some species of Leafhopper, or at least a member of the order Hemiptera.  We are tagging it as Unidentified and we hope our readership will assist in providing additional information.

Possibly a Leafhopper

Letter 5 – Unknown Hemipteran from India

 

ID Request
Location: Mysore, Karnataka, India
June 29, 2011 3:27 am
Hi Daniel,
I am writing from Mysore, India. I found a very tiny bug in our garden which I could not identify. This is very tiny – about 1mm. I also found a bug of the same species but with a tube-like extension at it’s hind quarters which looked like an egg sack. Please help me with the id of this bug from the images attached.
Thanks in advance 🙂
Subharghya Das
Peacock in the evening light
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000180038520

Unknown Hemipterans

Dear Subharghya Das,
All we can say for certain is that your insects are in the order Hemiptera, but beyond that, we haven’t a clue.  They are most likely a plant feeding species that uses piercing/sucking mouthparts to feed on plant fluids.  The tubelike extension is most like a waxy filament that is produced by many insects in the order.  We hope to be able to provide a species name in the near future.

Unknown Hemipteran

Dear Daniel … Thank you so much for such a prompt reply !! It will be really great if someday I can know the name of this beautiful looking tiny bug !! And of course Thanks for the Lead about Hemiptera !
With Warm Regards from India
Subharghya Das

Letter 6 – Unknown Hemipteran from Mexico

 

White butterfly/moth in Chiapas, Mexico
Location: Just outside Tuxtla-Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico
April 11, 2011 3:48 pm
While there is only one in this picture (on a neighboring tree), there was a tree covered with hundreds of these guys. The owner of the property said they are always there. To illustrate, she hit the branch with a stick. They fluttered off, but most of them immediately landed again on the tree. She also pointed out that some just drifted to the ground because they were already dead and just stuck to the branch. Any idea what it is?
Signature: David

Unknown Hemipteran

Dear David,
It seems the morning has escaped us and we haven’t much time to research this little beauty at the moment.  It is neither a butterfly nor a moth.  It is a free-living Hemipteran, perhaps one of the Planthoppers in the superfamily
Fulgoroidea.  We will try to provide a species identification in the future, but for now we just want to get a few new postings online, so we are tagging your example as unidentified in the hope our readership will have some time to assist us and you.

Karl provides yet another identification
Hi Daniel and David:
It appears to be a Flatid Planthopper (Fulgoroidea: Flatidae) in the genus Poekilloptera. There are several similar looking species, but this one is a very close match to P. phalaenoides. The species ranges from Mexico, south to the northern half of South America as far as Bolivia. Regards. Karl

Letter 7 – Unidentified Leafhopper from Australia

 

Subject: Leaf Hopper South West Sydney
Location: Campbelltown, Australia
December 22, 2012 1:49 am
I was a post by another person. They didn’t get a chance to take a photo of this bug from the same area I live. I will leave a link on their page if you can post this please 🙂
Signature: Leafhopper South West Sydney

Unidentified Leafhopper

Thank you for providing us with another view of this still unidentified Leafhopper.  We will continue to research its identity.

Unidentified Leafhopper

Authors

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  • 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.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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