What Do Leafhoppers Eat: A Quick Guide on Their Diet

Leafhoppers are a fascinating group of insects that belong to the Cicadellidae family within the Hemiptera order. These tiny, agile creatures are quite diverse, with more than 20,000 known species worldwide. You might often see them in your garden, hopping from plant to plant as they search for their next meal.

As the name suggests, leafhoppers mostly feed on the sap of plants. They use their specialized mouthparts to pierce plant tissues and extract the nutritious sap, which is their primary source of sustenance. This feeding behavior is shared by many members of the Hemiptera order, including the well-known aphids and cicadas.

Leafhoppers tend to be somewhat selective when it comes to their diet, with many species showing preferences for specific types of plants. For instance, the potato leafhopper (Empoasca fabae) is a significant pest of various food crops such as potatoes, beans, and eggplants. However, they can also be found feeding on numerous other plants, including ornamental and wild species, affecting their growth and health.

Leafhopper’s Diet

Leafhoppers are small insects that feed on a variety of plants. In your garden or among your crops, you may come across these tiny creatures enjoying their meals. So, what exactly do leafhoppers eat?

Leafhoppers primarily feed on plant sap. They use their needle-like mouthparts to pierce plant tissues and extract the sap from the leaves and stems. Since sap is essentially plant juice, it serves as a nutrition-rich diet for these insects.

There are numerous species of leafhoppers, and each one may have specific preferences for certain plant types. For instance, the Potato leafhopper is a significant pest that targets over 200 plants, including potatoes, beans, eggplants, cucumbers, pumpkins, and more.

  • Some leafhoppers favor legumes
  • Others prefer fruit-bearing plants like grapes

While feeding on plants, leafhoppers can cause significant damage. They not only drain the plant sap, but their feeding can also lead to deformities, stunted growth, and even death in severe cases. As a plant owner or gardener, it’s essential to be aware of these pests and take appropriate measures to protect your plant investments.

To sum it up, leafhoppers have a quite simple diet: they eat plant sap from various types of plants. Their feeding habits make them potentially harmful pests for your garden and crops, so keeping an eye out for them is important.

Leafhopper Species

Leafhoppers are diverse insects belonging to the family Cicadellidae and feed on a variety of plant species by sucking their sap1. There are several leafhopper species worth mentioning:

Potato Leafhopper

The Potato Leafhopper (Empoasca fabae) is a small, green insect that can severely damage potato plants. They jump and fly quickly when disturbed, making them difficult to control.

Beet Leafhopper

The Beet Leafhopper (Circulifer tenellus) targets plants within the goosefoot and amaranth families. This harmful pest is known to transmit diseases such as curly top virus in beets, tomatoes, and peppers.

Two-Spotted Leafhopper

Two-Spotted Leafhoppers are yellowish with a dark, reddish stripe along their back. These tiny insects2 feed on dozens of ornamental plants and a few crops such as lettuce and endive.

Blue-Green Sharpshooter

The Blue-Green Sharpshooter is a type of leafhopper with bluish-green coloring. They are attracted to a range of plants like grapes, citrus trees, or woody ornamentals.

Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter

The Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter is a large leafhopper with translucent wings. This insect is notorious for spreading Pierce’s disease which impacts grapevines and is difficult to control.

Species Appearance Plants Affected
Potato Leafhopper Small, green Potato, beans, alfalfa
Beet Leafhopper Pale green, tent-like wings Beets, tomatoes, peppers, goosefoot and amaranth family
Two-Spotted Leafhopper Yellowish, dark reddish stripe along back2 Ornamental plants, lettuce, endive
Blue-Green Sharpshooter Bluish-green Grapes, citrus trees, woody ornamentals
Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter Large, transparent wings Grapevines, oleanders, citrus trees

By understanding the different leafhopper species, you can better protect your plants from these sap-sucking pests.

Lifecycle of Leafhoppers

You might find it interesting to learn about the life cycle of leafhoppers. These tiny insects play a significant role in the ecosystem. Leafhoppers belong to the family Cicadellidae and are known for their piercing-sucking mouthparts, which they use to extract plant sap1.

The leafhopper life cycle consists of three main stages: egg, nymph, and adult.

Egg Stage:
The journey begins when female leafhoppers lay their eggs within plant tissue. Many generations can occur within a single year, and the overwintering of eggs can also take place in some species3.

Nymph Stage:
Once the eggs hatch, tiny nymphs emerge. These nymphs resemble smaller, wingless versions of adult leafhoppers1. During this stage, nymphs undergo several molts, gradually increasing in size until they reach adulthood.

Adult Stage:
The fully-grown leafhoppers are usually one-eighth to one-fourth inch long1. As adults, they continue feeding on plant sap and are known for their quick, hopping movements4.

In conclusion, understanding the life cycle of leafhoppers provided an insight into their fascinating little world, from the moment they hatch as nymphs to their final form as adults.

Signs of Infestation and Damage

Leafhoppers are insects that feed on plant sap, causing various forms of damage to the plants they infest. Here, we’ll discuss some of the common signs to look for if you suspect a leafhopper infestation.

Stippling: One of the first signs of leafhopper damage is the appearance of stippling on the leaves. This occurs when the insects pierce the plant’s surface and extract sap, leaving behind small white or yellow specks on the leaves.

Yellowing: As leafhoppers continue feeding on the plant, the leaves may begin to turn yellow due to the loss of nutrients. This weakens the plant and can eventually lead to reduced growth and overall health.

Curling: In some cases, leafhopper feeding can cause the edges of the leaves to curl. This is another indication of an infestation, as the insects’ feeding disrupts the normal development and structure of the leaves.

To determine if you have a leafhopper infestation, keep an eye out for the following signs:

  • Small, jumping insects on the plants
  • Stippled, yellowing, or curling leaves

If you notice these signs, take action to manage the infestation, such as implementing pest management strategies or consulting with a professional. By addressing the issue early, you can help minimize the damage leafhoppers can cause and maintain the health of your plants.

Leafhoppers and Plant Diseases

Leafhoppers are tiny insects that belong to the family Cicadellidae. These pests feed on plant sap by using their piercing-sucking mouthparts. While feeding, they excrete honeydew, a waste product that can attract other pests and cause plant diseases. In this section, we’ll focus on two common diseases associated with leafhoppers: Aster Yellows and Beet Curly Top Virus.

Aster Yellows

Aster Yellows is a phytoplasma disease that affects a wide range of plants. The disease is spread by the aster leafhopper (Macrosteles fascifrons) and certain other leafhoppers. Symptoms of Aster Yellows include:

  • Yellowing and dwarfing of plants
  • Distorted foliage
  • Abnormal production of shoots

Examples of affected plants include carrots, celery, lettuce, potatoes, and other vegetables according to UC IPM.

Beet Curly Top Virus

Beet Curly Top Virus (BCTV) is a plant disease transmitted by the beet leafhopper (Circulifer tenellus). This virus primarily affects plants in the family Chenopodiaceae, but can also infect other crops and ornamental plants. Symptoms of BCTV include:

  • Curled, twisted leaves
  • Stunted growth
  • Plant death in severe cases

Some examples of affected plants include beets, spinach, tomatoes, and beans. The virus is prevalent in North America, particularly in the western United States.

In both cases, diseases caused by leafhoppers can have a significant impact on plant growth and crop yield. To prevent these diseases, you can implement various measures, such as:

  • Regularly monitoring your plants for leafhoppers and their damage
  • Removing weeds and debris, which may harbor leafhoppers
  • Using insecticides if necessary

By understanding the role of leafhoppers in transmitting plant diseases, you can take better care of your plants and maintain a healthy garden.

Environmental Impact

Leafhoppers have a significant environmental impact, especially on the world’s crops, as they feed on a wide variety of plants. Some common plants they target include vegetables, flowers, trees, and various fruit crops like apples and grapes. They also impact ornamental plants, such as roses and shrubs, and field crops like alfalfa and beans.

When leafhoppers feed, they use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to extract plant sap. This feeding can cause damage to plants, like curling and necrosis, which eventually leads to reduced yield or even plant death. For example, potato leafhoppers can cause considerable damage to both eggplants and potatoes, resulting in hopper burn.

Here is a brief comparison table of leafhopper impacts on some common plants:

Plant Impact of Leafhoppers
Vegetables Damage foliage, reduce yield (e.g., potatoes, eggplants)
Flowers Impact growth, cause discoloration and deformity
Trees Affect tree health and fruit quality (e.g., apples)
Ornamentals Reduce aesthetics, affect growth (e.g., roses, shrubs)

Apart from direct damage, leafhoppers can also spread plant diseases. One such disease is aster yellows, transmitted by the aster leafhopper, which can affect several crops, including carrots, celery, lettuce, and potatoes source.

To summarize:

  • Leafhoppers feed on a wide range of plants, including crops, ornamentals, and trees
  • They cause direct damage by feeding on plant sap, resulting in foliage damage, reduced yield, and even plant death
  • Leafhoppers can also act as vectors for plant diseases, further damaging the affected plants

Protective Measures Against Leafhoppers

To protect your plants from leafhoppers, here are some effective protective measures:

Physical Barriers:

  • Use floating row covers to prevent leafhoppers from accessing your plants. Secure the edges to keep them out.

Cultural Controls:

  • Regularly monitor your plants to identify leafhopper presence early.
  • Removing weeds and debris from your garden reduces their hiding spots.

Biological Controls:

  • Introduce beneficial insects like lacewings and predators that feed on leafhoppers, helping to control their population.

Chemical Controls:

Natural Products:

  • Neem oil can help deter leafhoppers. Apply it according to the label instructions.

Remember to combine multiple strategies for the best protection against leafhoppers and avoid using chemicals as your first line of defense. By doing so, you’ll have a healthier, thriving garden.

Leafhoppers’ Relationship with Other Insects

Leafhoppers are sap-sucking insects that can be found in various environments. They share relationships with other insects, some being beneficial and others being antagonistic.

Ants and Aphids: Both leafhoppers and certain species of ants share a fascinating mutualistic relationship. Leafhoppers excrete honeydew as a byproduct of their sap-feeding, which attracts ants due to its sweet taste. In return for the honeydew, ants protect leafhoppers from predators like ladybugs and spiders. Similarly, ants also form relationships with aphids for the same reasons.

Predators: Leafhoppers face threats from various insect predators, such as:

  • Ladybugs: Known for their voracious appetite for aphids, they also prey on leafhopper nymphs.
  • Spiders: These arachnids feed on various insects, including leafhoppers, by trapping them in their webs.
  • Minute Pirate Bugs: As generalist predators, these bugs feed on leafhoppers along with other pests like spider mites and thrips.

Pollinators: While leafhoppers mainly feed on plant sap, they can inadvertently aid in pollination. As they move between plants, they may come into contact with pollen, transferring it between flowers and helping in the pollination process.

In conclusion, leafhoppers form complex relationships with various insects, some of which are mutually beneficial, while others pose a threat to their survival. Understanding these relationships can help in managing their population and mitigating any potential damage they may cause to plants.

Footnotes

  1. Leafhopper FAQ 2 3 4

  2. Leafhoppers and Sharpshooters 2

  3. https://leafhopper.inhs.illinois.edu/about-leafhoppers/leafhopper-faqs/

  4. https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/GARDEN/VEGES/PESTS/leafhopper.html

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 Leafhopper Nymph

 

Not in Insects of LA Book
Location: Thousand Oaks, CA
April 1, 2011 9:48 am
Hi,
I’ve seen a small (~ 3mm long x 1 mm wide) bug on a plant in my garden that I can’t identify. It’s been on a Lion’s Mane plant in the Los Angeles, CA area in March of this year (temps between 50-80 F). No picture seems to match it in Hogue’s ”Insects of the LA Basin”, my favorite local reference. A couple of pictures are attached. Thanks for your help.
Signature: TO-photo

Leafhopper Nymph

Dear TO-photo,
We opened your email yesterday, and we knew we wanted to post your photos, but our own garden was calling to us.  We thought about your letter as we were pulling weeds and taking in the wealth of insects that were enjoying the warm sunny conditions, and we waxed poetically about the awesome author Charles Hogue, whose book you mentioned.  The Insects of the Los Angeles Basin is our standard for attempting to identify unknown creatures we encounter, but like you, we are sometimes forced to search other venues.  Perhaps the world is ready for MORE Insects of the Los Angeles Basin because no volume is ever truly complete.  This is an immature Leafhopper, and Hogue’s book only lists two species on page 124.  Immature insects can often be quite difficult to identify to the species level.  We did a quick search of Leafhoppers in the family Cicidellidae on BugGuide, but we were unable to confirm a conclusive match, so we hope you are satisfied with a family identification.  If there are any adult specimens, identification may be much easier.  The quality of your photos is excellent.

Leafhopper Nymph

Letter 2 – Unknown: Hemipteran is in family Derbidae

 

I love this website
Thanks for past & future ID’s. This insect no bigger than 3rd of an inch on the side of my car at my farm in Brown Co, OH 06-17=07. No person or book has been able to tell me yet.
Mary Jo White

Hi Mary Jo,
We believe this is some species of Psillid or some other Hemipteran. We have contacted Eric Eaton and have confidence he will be able to assist in the identification.

Hi, Daniel:
Happy holidays to you, too! The insect in the image is a plant bug in the family Derbidae, and the genus Anotia. Might be the species Anotia bonnetii, with images on the Bugguide website, but I’m certainly no expert in that obscure family:-) I can’t even tell you anything about their biology, sorry. Very nice image submitted to you, though.
Eric

Letter 3 – Unknown Hemipteran: probably Psyllid or Whitefly

 

please help with identification (san francisco, ca)
hello,
i have found several of these on my chili pepper plants which had recently been infested with aphids. they have the same shape as a scale, but look more complex. can you please tell me what this is? thanks! by the way, i am from san francisco, california.
rachael

Hi Rachael,
This has turned out to be quite a day for us striking out in the instant gratification of insect identifications, as yours is the third inconclusive submission. We are confident that this is a Hemipteran, but after the order, we are not so sure. The closest visual match we can make is an Ensign Coccid, which BugGuide classifies as Suborder Sternorrhyncha – Plant-parasitic Hemipterans, Superfamily Coccoidea – Scales and Mealybugs, and Family Ortheziidae – Ensign Coccids. We also entertain the possibility that your insect may be a True Bug in the suborder Heteroptera. There are numerous images on BugGuide, but we suspect, due to the not quite developed wings, that this is a nymph, and nymphs are sometimes very difficult to properly identify. We will contact Eric Eaton who is experiencing computer problems, so we don’t expect a speedy response. Meanwhile, we will post your photos and see if any of our readers has an answer.

Update from Eric Eaton (08/04/2008)
Hi, Daniel:
The unknown hemipteran is definitely a nymph, and possibly that of a psyllid (family Psyllidae). I know they can be extremely flattened in at least some cases, in sharp contrast to the much more three-dimensional adults. Whiteflies are another possibility, but I’m fairly certain these are not scale insects of any kind. I know that doesn’t clarify much, sorry:-)
Eric

Letter 4 – Unknown Hemipterans from South Africa, possibly Ensign Coccid

 

I.D. Please
Location: Durban ; South Africa
September 18, 2011 1:24 am
These little guys are between 0.5mm and 2mm in size. They live along with along with black aphids on ”sacred basil” plants and dandelions.Its now spring in our part of the world.
Any idea what they are – I am thinking possibly some type of scale insect
Many thanks
P.S. Permission granted for all non commercial use.
Signature: Russ

Unknown Hemipterans

Hi Russ,
We disagree with your identification of Scale Insects, however, we believe you have the order Hemiptera correct.  In addition to Scale Insects, Hemiptera includes True Bugs, Cicadas, Hoppers and Aphids.  The individual closest to the camera in your photo appears to have secreted a waxy substance, another characteristic of many members of the order Hemiptera.  We are posting your photo and tagging it as unidentified until we are able to provide you with something more definite.

Many Thanks. I’ve attached a 3rd photo of one with a longer
“tail” (about 2.5mm). I suspect it is all “wax”.
Russ

Possibly Coccid

Thanks for the additional photo Russ.  We believe this may be either an Ensign Coccid in the family Ortheziidae, or some closely related family.  We used BugGuide for research, and the site is devoted to North American species.  We will continue to research this.  This photo from BioLib of a European Ensign Coccid supports our theory, but it also appears that the Coccids are more closely related to Scale insects than we originally thought, so your initial suspicion is proving to be more accurate than we admitted.

Letter 5 – Unknown Hemipterans from the Himalayas are Cosmoscarta bispecularis

 

Subject: Red black bug
Location: Himachal Pradesh India, Western Himalayas.
July 6, 2013 11:51 pm
Hi Bugman. Please identify this bug from western Himalayas. Thank you.
Signature: Harsha S

Unknown Hemipterans
Froghoppers

Dear Harsha,
We do not recognize your insects but we can tell you that they are Hemipterans, most likely Free Living Hemipterans in the suborder Auchenorrhyncha which includes Cicadas and Treehoppers.  We will post your image and we will continue to research, but perhaps one of our readers will be able to assist in a more specific identification.

Thanks for a quick reply Daniel. I had guessed they are closely related to hoppers. I could not find a picture on web similar to one I had clicked. I hope your veteran researchers will help me. Thanks.

Update:  July 24, 2013
Thanks to a reader’s comment, we now know that this Froghopper or Spittle Bug is
Cosmoscarta bispecularis.  Bold Systems Taxonomy Browser does not have any information.  Alas we cannot read the content of gaga.biodiv.tw, but it appears to be a somewhat credible source of information.  This Spittle Bug did appear on a Hong Kong Stamp, and according to World Stamp News:  “This brightly-coloured Spittle Bug is largely tangerine red with different sized black dots seen on its pronotum and wings. Some of these may join to form broad black bands, with the black spots at the wing tips merging as well. It does not produce any sounds. The adults can often be found between May and September, and, whilst mainly inhabiting shrublands, this uncommon type of Spittle Bug tends to appear in Tai Mo Shan and Ma On Shan as well.”

Letter 6 – Waxy Tailed Leafhopper from Guyana

 

Subject: Mystery bug
Location: Bagnara island Essequibo River Guyana
November 5, 2013 4:36 am
Dear bug man,
I stumbled upon your site while trying to identify this bug…
Or is it a misplaced trout fly fishing lure?
I took the picture yesterday 11/04/13 on Bagnara Island ,which is on the Essequibo River (near Bartica) in Guyana. It was on a tree in deep jungle area and was about 1 1/2 inches long.
Signature: Lindsey

Fulgorid Leafhopper
Fulgorid Leafhopper

Hi Lindsey,
We opened your email yesterday and we could have written back to you immediately that this is a Leafhopper in the family Fulgoridae, and that the white tail is a waxy secretion produced by many members of its family, but we wanted to provide a more thorough identification with links.  This morning, we first located an image on Animals and Earth, but there was no more specific information, nor was there any additional information on Ardea.  Then we found an image on FlickR that identifies it as possibly a member of the genus
Pterodictya.  Following that genus name to Learn About Butterflies shows a similar, but obviously different species.

Thanks so much!
It’s a VERY cool bug !

Letter 7 – World’s Largest Leafhopper from Australia: Ledromorpha planirostris

 

Subject: Pyramid Head
Location: Central Coast, Australia
December 30, 2013 5:25 am
Hey, I found this bug on the side of my house and (obviously) have no idea what its is
I dubbed it pyramid head, named after the monster from silent hill.
thank you in advance.
Signature: Amber

Leafhopper
Leafhopper

Dear Amber,
While we have not been able to quickly find a conclusive species match for your Free Living Hemipteran, we are relatively confident that it is a Leafhopper in the family Cicadellidae, and probably a Flatheaded Leafhopper in the subfamily Ledrinae.  The Brisbane Insect website has a few photos of immature specimens that bear a resemblance to your insect.  PaDIL, the Pests and Diseases Image Library has a page on the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter and other native insects is can be confused with, and though many of those look similar, none seems to be an exact match either.  We continued to search and then we discovered the World’s Largest Leafhopper,
Ledromorpha planirostris, back on the Brisbane Insect website, and we are relatively confident that is your species.  We don’t understand how we missed it the first pass we made on the Brisbane Insect website.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

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

7 thoughts on “What Do Leafhoppers Eat: A Quick Guide on Their Diet”

  1. This species look exactly like the drawing of Insignorthezia insignis (Browne, 1887) (you may find in: Kozár, 2004 – Ortheziidae of the World), a very common pest species; but for a quite precise identification we have to need a slide mounting of a female specimen.

    Reply

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