What Do Treehoppers Eat? Discover Their Unique Diet!

Treehoppers are fascinating insects that can be found in various environments, often seen on plants and trees. You might have encountered these unique creatures in your garden or local park, distinctive by their enlarged pronotum, which looks like a thorn or wart. But have you ever wondered what do treehoppers eat?

These tiny insects feed primarily on plant sap, specifically from the phloem tissue within their host plants. They use their piercing mouthparts to access the sap, which provides them with essential nutrients for survival. Treehoppers are known to be selective about their food sources, as some species may be polyphagous (feeding on various plant species), while others may have a preferred host plant family or genus 1.

As a by-product of their feeding habits, treehoppers excrete a sugary substance called honeydew, which is a highly sought-after food for other insects like ants and bees. This ecological interaction showcases the intricate balance of nature and further enriches the community of organisms within their habitat. So, the next time you encounter a treehopper, you’ll know just what keeps them going in their little world.

What are Treehoppers?

Treehoppers belong to the family Membracidae, a unique group of insects often found on plants. These fascinating creatures are known for their distinct appearance, which includes a variety of unusual shapes, colors, and sizes.

The size of treehoppers usually ranges from 3 to 10mm. They come in many shapes, some examples include those resembling thorns, leaves, or even tiny animals. This rich diversity of forms helps treehoppers blend in with their plant hosts, providing an effective form of camouflage.

Now, let’s quickly explore some key features of treehoppers:

  • They are plant-feeding insects, sucking sap from stems and leaves.
  • Treehoppers can communicate with each other through vibrations.
  • Most treehoppers have a unique structure called a “pronotum,” which extends over their main body, providing both protection and camouflage.

In a nutshell, treehoppers are intriguing insects with a wide range of shapes and sizes, belonging to the Membracidae family. Their fascinating appearance and behavior make them a unique member of the insect world. As you observe plants in your surroundings, keep an eye out for these small yet remarkable creatures.

Habitats of Treehoppers

Treehoppers can be found in a variety of environments, ranging from dense forests to suburban gardens. In general, these fascinating insects prefer to inhabit areas with an abundance of trees and shrubs, as they mainly feed on sap from these plants.

In North America, Europe, and Asia, treehoppers are commonly encountered in temperate regions. They can also be found in tropical habitats, such as the diverse forests of Brazil 1. In these lush environments, treehoppers utilize a wide array of tree species as host plants 2.

When it comes to your garden, you might spot treehoppers on twigs, branches, and leaves of various plants. While they can be quite adapted to urban and suburban gardens, their presence might indicate the need for better plant maintenance, as these insects are known to transmit diseases to their host plants 3.

To better understand the different habitats of treehoppers, here’s a brief comparison table:

Region Characteristics Specific Locations Examples of Trees & Shrubs
North America Temperate regions
Europe Temperate regions
Asia Temperate regions
Brazil Tropical rainforests Wide variety of tree species

Everyone’s outdoor space is unique, and the treehoppers you may encounter can vary depending on your location and the types of plants in your area. Keep an eye out for these amazing insects next time you’re outside, and appreciate their presence as a part of your local ecosystem.

Physical Appearance

Color and Camouflage

Treehoppers come in various colors, which aid in their camouflage. You may find them in shades of green, brown, or a combination of these, helping them blend seamlessly with the plants they reside on. For example, the Buffalo Treehopper is usually green or brown to match the leaves of its host plants.

These little insects are known for their striking and unique appearances. The Brazilian Treehopper, for instance, has a spectacular helmet-like structure with spines and intricate designs, which mimics thorny branches. This disguise helps them go unnoticed by predators.

Unique Body Features

One of the most prominent features of treehoppers is their enlarged pronotum. Commonly referred to as Thorn Bugs, their pronotum extends over their wings and abdomen, creating a protective shell that is visually similar to a thorn, hence their nickname.

Different species of treehoppers have unique body features that make them stand out. Take the Brazilian Treehopper; not only does it sport a helmet-like pronotum, but it also has strange, spindly horns protruding from it. These horns add to their overall camouflage, making them even harder to spot.

On the other hand, the Buffalo Treehopper has a smaller, more rounded pronotum, giving it a buffalo-like hump appearance. Though they don’t have the same elaborate spines as their Brazilian counterpart, their distinct shape helps them blend into their environment just as effectively.

By having these assorted physical traits, treehoppers can successfully evade predators, making the most of their color, camouflage, and unique body features.

The Diet of Treehoppers

Treehoppers are fascinating insects that might surprise you with their unique diets. For starters, they primarily feed on sap from plants. You see, these creatures possess specialized mouthparts called “stylets” which help them tap directly into a plant’s vascular system to extract nutrient-rich sap1.

  • Sap: The primary source of nutrition for treehoppers is sap, which they extract from a variety of plants1.

Besides sap, treehoppers may also feed on different plant parts, depending on their species, preferences and available plant types. Here are some instances of their plant-based diet:

  • Leaves: Some treehopper species are known to enjoy feeding on the leaves of a variety of plants2.
  • Grasses: Grasses can serve as a fantastic food source for certain treehopper species, especially ones found in grassy habitats2.
  • Plant stems: Many treehoppers will choose to consume plant stems as well, tapping into their nutrient-rich cells3.

When it comes to selecting their menu, treehoppers can be picky and particular about their food choices. For example, some treehoppers may only feed on specific plant species4. Others could be more flexible, exhibiting a polyphagous diet where they consume a wider variety of plant types4.

Though treehoppers mainly devour plant-based diets, it’s crucial to know that they can also spread diseases among plants by feeding on them and passing on pathogens3. So, while these insects are fascinating in their eating habits, they can potentially cause harm to their host plants in the process.

Predators and Defense Mechanisms

Common Predators

Treehoppers, like many other insects, have to deal with various predators in their natural environment. Some common predators that you might encounter are:

  • Ants: Ants are known for their cooperative attacks on various insects, and treehoppers are no exception.
  • Birds: Many bird species, such as flycatchers and warblers, prey on insects like treehoppers for sustenance.
  • Geckos: These small lizards often consume insects, including treehoppers, as a primary food source.
  • Wasps: Some parasitic wasp species lay their eggs inside treehoppers, eventually leading to the insect’s demise.

Defensive Strategies

To protect themselves from these predators, treehoppers have developed several defensive mechanisms:

  • Mimicry: Many treehoppers bear a striking resemblance to thorns, leaves, or other elements of the plants they inhabit. This camouflage helps them avoid detection by predators.
  • Vibrations: Treehoppers communicate through vibrations that travel along plant stems, allowing them to alert others in their group when a predator is nearby. This can help the entire group react and escape danger together.

In conclusion, treehoppers face a variety of predators in their everyday lives but have developed several strategies to defend themselves. Through the use of mimicry and vibrational communication, treehoppers can better evade and escape their many enemies.

Treehoppers and Symbiotic Relations

Treehoppers are fascinating insects that mainly feed on plant sap, utilizing their specialized mouthparts to pierce tree bark and access nutrients. Their saliva prevents the tree from closing the bite area, which can sometimes lead to the spread of plant diseases.

In their quest for sustenance, treehoppers also form symbiotic relationships with other insects, such as ants. These relationships can be quite complex and beneficial for both parties involved. For instance:

  • Treehoppers produce honeydew, a sweet, sticky substance that ants love. In exchange for this valuable food source, ants offer protection to treehoppers from predators and parasites.

  • The presence of ants can also benefit the treehopper’s host plant, as ants often protect it from other harmful insects or pests that may try to attack.

Here are some key features of treehoppers and their symbiotic relations:

  • Insects involved: Treehoppers and ants
  • Primary food source: Plant sap for treehoppers, honeydew for ants
  • Mutual benefits: Protection for treehoppers, food for ants, and sometimes indirect protection for the host plant.

Remember to appreciate the fascinating world of insects around you, and keep in mind the significance of their symbiotic relationships.

Reproduction Cycle

Treehoppers begin their reproductive cycle by laying eggs. The female treehoppers usually lay their eggs in the living tissue of their host plant, or on the surface of the plant. You might be interested to know that some species coat their eggs with a frothy substance that hardens when dry, providing extra protection for the eggs 1.

Upon hatching, treehoppers enter the nymph stage. Nymphs look similar to adults, but they’re smaller and lack wings. As they grow, they go through multiple stages called instars, gradually developing wings and reaching adulthood.

Reproduction in treehoppers typically occurs once or more every year, leading to one or more generation per year 1. This means that treehoppers continuously ensure their species survival.

Here’s a quick summary of the treehopper reproductive cycle:

  • Eggs: Laid on host plants, sometimes coated with a protective substance
  • Nymphs: Hatch from eggs, go through multiple instars before becoming adults
  • Reproduce: Adult treehoppers mate and reproduce, creating the next generation
  • Generation: One or more generations can occur per year

It’s crucial to understand the reproduction cycle of treehoppers to gain insight into their life cycle and population dynamics. Knowing their reproductive patterns can also help you manage their presence in your garden or agricultural fields.

Treehoppers and Their Impact on Environment

Positive Impact

Treehoppers, belonging to the Insecta class, play a vital role in their ecosystem. They help in pollination and serve as a food source for various predators like birds, spiders, and other insects.

For example, the Three-Cornered Alfalfa Hopper can benefit from eating plant sap because it helps improve the overall health of the plant. Similarly, Brazilian Treehoppers can have a positive influence on vegetation by increasing the nutrient cycling in the ecosystem.

Negative Impact

On the other hand, treehoppers can also cause damage to plants. They feed on sap, weakening the plant and sometimes transmitting diseases. True Bugs and Buffalo Treehoppers can cause significant damage to crops and trees, reducing yield and overall plant health.

For instance, the spread of diseases via insects like Flies and Brazilian Treehoppers can lead to financial loss if it affects agricultural production. It is crucial for farmers to monitor and manage treehopper populations to minimize the negative impact on the environment.

As you can see, treehoppers have both positive and negative effects on the environment. Maintaining a balance in their population is essential to avoid adverse consequences and support ecosystem health.

Conservation Status and Human Interaction

Treehoppers belong to the scientific classification of Animalia and are part of the Arthropoda phylum. These fascinating insects feed on plant sap, which they access by piercing the plant’s tissue with their specialized mouthparts [1]. But don’t worry, their feeding habits typically don’t cause significant harm to plants.

As for treehoppers’ conservation status, there’s no widespread concern at the moment. However, some species may face localized issues depending on their specific habitats and human activities. So, it’s good to know the role they play in the ecosystem and how humans interact with them.

Keep in mind, treehoppers are also important to other wildlife. Different predatory insects and birds rely on them as a food source. In turn, protecting their natural environment contributes to overall biodiversity and ecosystem health.

Human interaction with treehoppers can be both positive and negative. In general, observing and learning about these insects can spark curiosity and foster a love for nature. You can even promote their presence by planting native vegetation, which serves as their food and habitat. On the other hand, excessive pesticide use or habitat destruction can harm treehopper populations, disrupting their role in the ecosystem.

Remember, fostering a better understanding and appreciation for treehoppers ensures that future generations can enjoy these tiny wonders of the natural world.

Interesting Facts

Treehoppers, belonging to the order Hemiptera, are fascinating creatures known for their unique appearances and behaviors. They are found all around the world, with approximately 3,200 species known to exist. Let’s explore some of their interesting features and characteristics.

Treehoppers feed primarily on plant sap, using their sucking mouthparts to pierce the bark of trees and extract the sap. Their saliva contains certain enzymes that help prevent the tree from healing the pierced area, allowing them to feed freely. Interestingly, some treehoppers, like the three-cornered alfalfa hopper and buffalo treehopper, are considered agricultural pests as they can cause damage to alfalfa, soybeans, and apple trees.

In terms of communication, treehoppers employ a unique method that involves vibrating their wings. This form of communication helps them signal others in their group when they perceive potential threats. Alfred Keller, a renowned entomologist, has studied these insects extensively and contributed greatly to our understanding of their biology.

Here are some additional interesting features of treehoppers:

  • Stictocephala is a genus of treehoppers with species that are commonly called buffalo treehoppers due to their humpbacked appearance.
  • Treehoppers are related to cicadas and leafhoppers, sharing features such as short, bristle-like antennae and three-segmented feet (tarsi).
  • While not known for their speed, treehoppers are able to hop quickly and fly when necessary, using their notably short wings.
  • The oil they produce as a byproduct of feeding can be important for other species, such as ants that feed on it and even protect treehoppers from predators in exchange for this valuable resource.

As you can see, treehoppers are fascinating insects with intriguing characteristics and a unique method of communication. Their diverse appearances, feeding habits, and relationships with other species make them an interesting topic of study and discussion.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.si.edu/stories/beautiful-and-bizarre-treehopper 2 3 4 5

  2. https://leafhopper.inhs.illinois.edu/about-treehoppers/ 2 3

  3. https://www.si.edu/stories/beautiful-and-bizarre-treehopper 2 3

  4. Planthoppers | Missouri Department of Conservation 2

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 – Treehopper: Glossonotus species

 

Subject: rhinmotherous?
Location: Ontario, Canada
September 27, 2016 7:24 pm
A friend in Ontario happened across this little guy during a walk. He’s so nifty I just have to know what he is!
Signature: Dee

Treehopper
Treehopper

Dear Dee,
This is a thorn-mimic Treehopper in the family Membracidae.  We were not able to locate an exact visual match on BugGuide, but we will get back to researching this again later in the day.  Meanwhile, perhaps our readership will be able to assist with this identification.

Letter 2 – Treehopper: Entylia carinata

 

Subject: insect indentification
Location: Oklahoma
July 19, 2014 9:15 pm
Can you please help identify this insect?
Signature: Abigail

Treehopper
Treehopper

Dear Abigail,
We believe we have correctly identified your Treehopper as
Entylia carinata, based on this image posted to BugGuide.  According to BugGuide, they feed on:  “various herbaceous plants, especially Asteraceae” and “Commonly seen to be attended by ants” which form a symbiotic relationship with plant sucking insects like Aphids and Treehoppers because the Ants feed on the honeydew secreted by many free-living Hemipterans.

Letter 3 – Treehopper from Mexico, and its edible

 

Strange, hard, fly like creature
December 22, 2009
The strangest insect ever? Hard as a rock. Didn’t sting or bite but the spike on top and two on his sides were sharp and hard like thorns.
Had wings and was on the beach but seemed unable to fly in the strong breeze. Clung to me or my pencil till I let him go in the jungle.
Thank you! Kambri Crews
Mexico

Follow up re: Strange, hard, fly like creature
on December 22, 2009
I was silly and submitted a photo and brief email without first perusing your site and getting the gist.
Please accept my apologies for the lame narrative in my prior submission!
I have also attached one additional photo of THE most interesting insect I have ever laid eyes on. Have you any idea what he could be?
Thanks again! Kambri Crews
Maroma Spa & Resort, near Playa del Carmen Mexico

Treehopper
Treehopper

Dear Kambri Crews,
This is a Treehopper in the family Membracidae.  Many species in the family mimic thorns and they are nearly impossible to see when  resting on a thorny branch.  They may also mimic the lead tip on a pencil.

Letter 4 – Treehopper from Mexico

 

Subject: What is this tiny moth/
Location: San Francisc, Nayarit, Mexico
April 6, 2015 6:22 pm
Found in San Francisc, Nayarit, Mexico north of Puerto Vallarta
Signature: Bob

Treehopper
Treehopper

Dear Bob,
This is not a moth, but rather a Treehopper, and we have identified it as
Membracis mexicana thanks to a FlickR posting.  We verified that on the FAUNA ENTOMOLOGICA DE NICARAGUA site.

AWESOME!  it is such a beautiful insect,  I needed to know what it was…You guys Rock!
Bob Farmer

Letter 5 – Treehopper from Peru

 

Treehopper from Peru
Location: Shima, near Satipo, Junin, Peru
February 5, 2011 2:43 pm
Can anyone please identify this treehopper found in central Peru?
Signature: Peter Bruce-Jones

Treehopper

Hi Peter,
This is one beautiful Treehopper in the family Membracidae.  We have a vague memory of having received an image of this species, or a very similar species, in the past.  We will attempt to search our archive to provide a species identification.  Just a note that if you provide a comment on this posting, you will be notified in the future if anyone comments or provides an identification.  We did locate a matching photo on Corbis Images, but the species is not identified.

Letter 6 – Treehopper Nymph

 

Subject: Soft but spiny
Location: Austin, Texas
April 28, 2016 4:56 pm
This little guy was found eating sunflower seedlings. I have never seen anything like it! Is it adult or a nymph? Please help identify! Thank you!
Signature: MK Pope

Treehopper Nymph
Treehopper Nymph

Dear MK Pope,
This is a Treehopper Nymph from the family Membracidae, but our quick search did not produce a species match.  You can try browsing BugGuide for a species identity.

Letter 7 – Treehopper Nymphs

 

Bug on my night blooming jasmin
Hi there,
I came across your site, and being a novice gardener, thought I would inquire as to whether or not you could identify this bug. They are propagating on my night blooming jasmine. I live in Southern California. Thanks!
Michele

Hi Michele,
You have nymphs from some species of Treehopper. They are destructive.

Letter 8 – Treehopper Nymphs

 

Potato bush insect?
Hi Bugman!
While pruning my solanum rantonnetii (commonly called blue potato bush) in San Diego, California, this warm October morning, I encountered clusters of insects I have never seen before. Not that I am an entomologist and should have known these, I am just a humble biochemist. I wonder what you can make of these? They appear to walk blunt end forward. I cannot tell if there is a relationship with the ants all around them. I can’t see any nectar production from these insects, for example. Is there somebody you can forward these pics to that can make an ID if you cannot? I am curious whether these are beneficials that I should encourage. I have several nearby fruit trees, grapes, tomatoes, and herbs. I wonder if they came for a sampling of these plants, though I have never seen them on my crops, or if they came to eat the pests that may be attracted to my crops. Should I be alarmed at these? Thanks for any help you may offer!
Dan Adminex

Hi Dan,
These are immature Treehoppers, most likely Keelbacked Treehoppers, Antianthe expansa, an insect commonly associated with solanaceous plants. They suck the vital juices from the plants stems. Adults are green and winged. The ants are attracted to the honeydew they exude. They may spread viruses to your plants.

Letter 9 – Treehopper Nymphs from Mexico

 

Subject: Interesting Bugs
Location: Mexico, Guerrerero State
December 2, 2015 2:00 pm
Not sure what these guys are. But there’s lots of them.
Signature: JR

Treehopper Nymphs
Treehopper Nymphs

Dear JR,
We believe we have identified your Treehopper nymphs as
Membracis dorsata thanks to this image posted to FlickR.  It might be a different member of the genus, as Project Noah has a similar looking creature from Guatemala identified as Membracis mexicana.

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.

10 thoughts on “What Do Treehoppers Eat? Discover Their Unique Diet!”

  1. Traditionally consumed in Mexico and elsewhere
    Seasons Greetings one and all,

    The traditional name ‘Periquitos,’ meaning “Parrakeets,” is what this insect goes by (at least that’s the ethno-name; I don’t know which particular species of tree-hoppers it’s applied to.) They were consumed in Mexico and still might be, but I don’t think they’re as popular as chapulines, gusanos, or escamoles — grasshoppers, caterpillars, or ants [again, particular species thereof].
    Some tree-hoppers are also consumed in South America; I once read about an ethnologist who hurt his mouth on an insect’s thorn.

    Reply
  2. Hi,
    I have now found images of this and similar species on several sites, which give the genus as Membracis, and this also gives me confidence that my other image (with the nymphs) also shows a Membracis, but I would still like to find which species they are.
    Peter

    Reply

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