Leafhopper Pests: How To Kill Off Lurking Cicadellidae

Ed Wike
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Leafhopper Overview

The leafhopper is a common garden pest. They show up in the spring and lay their eggs behind the leaf's veins. Adult females can lay up to 100 eggs. By mid summer they'll hatch. Within a few weeks the young will begin to show up.

The best time to treat for leafhoppers is early in the season, before they become a problem. There are several good organic options for treatment and prevention.

Organic control is as simple as a good balanced soil fertilizer including nitrogen. The annual application should be followed by potassium the following year. If you have trouble with the leaf hopper, try adding a bit of wood ash to the soil as a fertilizer and lime to restore the needed potassium.

Another option is to spray and organic miticide or insecticidal soap.

It's important to note that it's wiser to use an organic compound that was created for the leaf hopper. There are numerous products on the market that are labeled for a variety of local pests. While it is difficult to identify the actual leaf hopper in most instances, it's important to note which pest you are spray against. Since leaf hoppers are related to aphids, having an organic compound that is a broad spectrum may be harmful to biological control agents.

Types of Leafhoppers

There are three major types of leafhoppers:

  • Greenhouse leafhopper
  • Potato leafhopper
  • Cowpea leafhopper

Life Cycle of Leafhoppers

The cicadellidae is a common type of leafhopper found in a variety of plants. They have a very distinct life cycle that can cause significant damage to plants and trees. When they are in the nymph stage, they feed on the sap from the roots of plants which can cause serious damage. Adults continue to feed on the leaves of the plant and can do serious damage to the plant as well. The adults also serve as a mode of transportation for other types of plant problems.

Adult leafhoppers are very small, usually about 1/16th of an inch long, and are strikingly camouflaged. This makes them extremely difficult to see. The adults are usually orange, brown, or yellow in color. The females lay their eggs on the underside of leaves. The eggs are laid in a row of 100-200 eggs. It takes about 3-5 days for the eggs to hatch. The nymphs are usually green and yellow when they first hatch and then go through about 4 different colors before they reach adulthood. Once they reach adulthood, they are referred to as adults. The adult life span is only about 2-3 weeks long. After a few days of the adults life span, it will die.

Common Habitats For Leafhoppers

Look on the leaves of your plants. What do you see? Odds are you are seeing some sort of leafhopper. These pests are always present in your garden but often unseen and unnoticed. These insects are most active in the summer but may occasionally show up at other times of the year in certain areas. Leafhoppers are not in fact true bugs. There are a number of different types of leafhoppers causing damage on your plants. Some of the most popular are the Bagrada bug, common leafhopper, fall webworm, yellow leafhopper, and the tobacco hopper.

What Do Leafhoppers Eat?

An infestation of leafhoppers can cause huge losses to both plants and produce.

Leafhoppers have piercing-sucking mouthparts, meaning that they pierce the plant and suck out the juices.

They are extremely light green to pale yellow in color, and are about 0.125 inches long.

Because they are so light, they can easily be blown about by the wind, especially after a storm. This tends to make them attracted to areas of high wind and where they would be exposed to the elements, such as where the branches meet the trunk and the undersides of tree leaves.

In the warmer months, leafhopper infestations are prevalent in hot, humid areas. During the winter, leafhoppers can be found where plants are kept in a cool climate for growing or storage.

When they arrive, they will remain on plants for a while, and then lay their eggs. Once eggs are laid, leafhoppers will move and feed wherever they find the best food source.

They particularly like grapevines and fruit trees. The leafhoppers are found in clusters on the plants. Do not attempt to handle them with your bare hands. They may suck your blood.

How To Get Rid Of The Leafhopper

The leafhopper bug is a slow moving little creature that has long, slender legs and is just under a half of an inch long. The small insect is ovalish in shape and tan colored. These bugs are generally found during the spring and summer months.

You may discover the leafhopper under the magnifying glass. The reason for this is the body of leafhopper is very flat and takes on the shape of the leaf. As the winter months approach, leafhopper bug becomes less noticeable and the number of these types of bugs in your garden declines.

The reason for this is leafhopper bugs are basically an outdoor insect and in the winter months the temperatures become very cold and the leafhoppers can’t survive. This insect is also widely known as the grasshopper or “resembling a hopper bug” on the account of the way the insect jumps.

The leafhopper bug is also known as the brown stem borer and the oat hopper.

This insect goes by many names and since it is an outdoors insect, you will not have to see this creature every day. The leafhopper bug rises from the soil from time to time in order to nibble on plants in your garden.

Organic Leafhopper Control

Of course, you can’t just use anything to kill off leafhoppers. Chemicals are not an option. In fact, the only way to deal with these pests organically is to use unfriendly plants.

Castor Bean (Ricinus Communis)

Bromeliads (Aechmea, Dyckia, and Guzmania).

Rosary Pea (Abrus Precatorius)

And here's a fun fact: Sarracenia can actually trap and digest cicadellidae all on its own.

OK, so that's not exactly the most economical way to go about leafhopper pest control. But it is a viable option if you don’t mind dealing in live insects that complete their life cycles in a pitcher plant.

Regardless of which method you choose, once you’ve dealt with the leafhoppers, it is important to sterilize the tools you used. Otherwise, you’ll be opening the door to a whole new batch of pests.

Obviously, it’s best to avoid these situations for one simple reason: They can really take the fun out of gardening.

Environmental Leafhopper Control

Prevention

Like several other pests, leafhoppers occur naturally in the environment. You may encounter them in greenhouses, on the vinyl siding of your house, and on outdoor plants and trees. While they are not a health concern, they can damage plants, and cause cosmetic destruction to your outdoor décor.

To prevent leafhoppers from settling on your plants, it is advisable to plant species that these pests are not attracted to. This is possible if you purchase a plant with good natural camouflage properties. You can also use insecticides to create a toxic environment around the plants. Another environmentally friendly way to prevent leafhopper infestations is to plant species that are known to repel them. Use of pheromone traps in combination with pest-specific organic sprays can also be useful in reducing leafhopper populations.

Preventing Leafhoppers

Leafhoppers are sap-sucking insects that use a structure at the rear of the abdomen called the stylophore to suck up nourishment. Though leafhoppers are most often seen on the leaves of plants, they can also be found on flowers and in leaf axils.

Leafhoppers are in the cicada family, and most are approximately .4-1 cm (1/10 to 1/5 of an inch) long. Coloration varies from species to species, but most display bright colors such as greens, oranges, yellows, and reds.

The most apparent feature of leafhoppers is the triangular head, which is wider at the back than the front.

The scutellum resembles a shield, and is enclosed in an oval-shaped convex pronotum.

Tiny light-colored bumps on the back of a leafhopper are called tubercles.

On each side of the leafhopper are spines called pegs. Leafhoppers have jumping hind legs, large enough to be seen with the naked eye.

The leafhopper is not a member of the garden welcoming crew, and is actually one of the most damaging pests.

At one time, pests such as cabbage loopers and imported cabbageworms were ranked higher in the pest roster of the U.S.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do Cicadellidae overwinter?

In the ones that export, the overwintering stage is a nymph that stays hidden and not vulnerable to predators. Since they are going to hatch in the spring it makes sense to stay out of sight from spring to fall.

How long do the nymphs live?

Cicadellidae nymphs live from 6-12 months, most will die in the first few weeks of life.

What is the life cycle?

There may be 12-14 nymphal stages. Each one will take 2-3 weeks.

How do the adults overwinter? How do they migrate?

Most species have a temperate life form. The adults will go underground and molt in the fall.

What are the mating habits?

Cicadidae are usually seasonally active, mating flights happen in the spring and many of them stimulate the other cicadellidae to refrain from mating until they let off their calls. There may be some species that migrate, but this is not that common.

What is katydid?

A katydid is a type of cicadellidae from the sub-order katydidae. They have a huge variation in wing color and size.

What are the common signs of disease?

Q: Do leafhoppers bite?

A: Beneath their proboscis are four clawed mouthparts. In fact, leafhoppers are the only insects with mouthparts comprised of four points. As you may imagine, this serves the leafhopper very well for chewing into leaves, which they do in order to get at the green pulp found within. Aside from the fact that leafhoppers chew on leaves in order to gain nutrients, other reasons exist as to why you might find a leafhopper in your garden. It could, for instance, be there for laying eggs on plant leaves or stems. Leafhoppers are also very interesting insects, so you might also find them in your garden so as to observe them. Very frequently, people will make a leafhopper insect box and then capture a few of the creatures. While they may not look it, leafhopper insects do have wings. When they fly, you may find it hard to spot them among the leaves, as they blend in so well.

It is interesting to note that these insects are pests, yet many people keep leafhopper insects in small containers at home. They are often very curious little creatures and they can be fun to observe.

Q: Are there any leafhoppers that eat tomato plants?

A: Yes, a type of leafhopper called the potato leafhopper can attack potato plants. They are generally a bigger threat in cooler climates than they are in the South. After the adults lay their eggs on the leaves of the tomato plant, the eggs hatch and a larva grows in the leaf. The leaf hopper can be identified by the 11 pale yellow stripes that run down its back. The chemical, natural product, or insecticide of choice for leafhopper control is spinosad.