Leafhopper Control: A Diverse And Abundant Group Of Garden Pests

To begin any type of leafhopper control the home gardener needs to know there are many different kinds of leafhoppers.

They belong to a large insect family (Cicadellidae) in the Hemiptera order.

These small 1/10″ to 1/2″ long, lively insects feast on a wide variety of plants by sucking the juices out of them (like spider mites) through their piercing mouthparts.

Leafhoppers attack fruit trees especially apple trees, flowers, vegetables, grapes, eggplants, potatoes, peanuts and members of the squash family.

Other common host plants include a variety of weeds and some ornamentals.

Leafhopper control of the Black faced leafhopper
Black faced Leafhopper = see page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In this article, we discuss the damage these pests can do and provide tips to help you recognize and manage them. Read on to learn more.

How Long Have Leafhoppers Been In Existence?

Leafhoppers have existed, pretty much unchanged, since prehistoric times.

Fossils of Cicadellidae, the oldest true leafhopper, date from the Cretaceous period, which scientist claim was 125 million years ago.

Leafhopper remains found in amber, dating back 55 million years are identical to the leafhoppers we battle today. [1]

How Many Different Kinds Of Leafhoppers Are There?

The exact number of species is unknown, but the estimate is around 20,000 different leafhopper species in North America and beyond.

This number grows every year as new species are discovered.

We are just now learning about vast numbers of insect species in the Amazon rainforest.

Based on what has been found there so far, it is estimated that there may really be more than 100,00 species of leafhoppers in the world today.

Related Reading: A Collection of Bad Garden Insects Found In Home Gardens

Why Are There So Many Different Kinds Of Leafhopper Species?

One of the main reasons there is such an abundance of diversity within this family of insects is that they are not picky.

Leafhoppers eat all manner of vascular plants, both herbaceous and woody. They eat broad-leafed plants, grasses, sedges, and evergreens.

Very often, several leafhopper populations can live together on one plant. They are all highly adaptable, and each type can successfully thrive on many different types of plants.

For example, the potato leafhopper prefers potato plants, but it is perfectly happy gobbling the plant juices of more than a hundred other varieties of host plants.

How Do Leafhoppers Damage Plants?

Leafhoppers harm plants through direct damage and spreading various plant diseases by transmitting pathogens in the form of viruses and microorganisms.

Leafhopper adults use their piercing mouthparts to pierce the cells of plants and suck out the plant juices.

The damage they cause may vary depending upon the structure of the plant and the type of hopper doing the damage.

Some simply cause damage by the leafhopper feeding on and consuming the plant tissues. Others leave behind pathogens that cause further damage and plant death.

For example, some types of hoppers transmit pathogens that cause the curly top virus. They can also spread Pierce’s Disease, which is fatal to grape vines.

Which Leafhoppers Are The Worst?

The most egregious agricultural pests are:

  • Glassy-winged sharpshooter
  • Two-spotted leafhopper
  • White apple leafhopper
  • Potato leafhopper
  • Beet leafhopper

Do Leafhoppers Hurt People?

Leafhoppers are mostly harmful to crops and don’t seem to bite people.

There have been some casual reports of people being bitten by them, but these are few and far between and are not documented.

How Can You Tell Leafhoppers Are Present?

Because hoppers are so lively and agile and often come in great numbers, it’s easy to know when they are in your home garden.

As you rustle the plants in passing, these skilled jumpers will spring about in every direction.

In addition to being able to spring forward, hoppers can also spring backwards and sideways.

Seeing hoppers springing about your garden is just one clue. You will also see telltale plant damage.

This varies depending on the type of plant and the type of hopper. Some cause small, stippled white spots to appear on the tops of leaves, emerging from the midrib.

Sometimes the stippling is joined into large white blotches.

Some plants react to the leafhoppers toxic salvia by displaying severe leaf distortions such as rolled or curled edges, crinkled, yellowed or leaves with whites spots on the undersides.

It’s worth noting that spider mites also cause leaf stippling, but you can distinguish their damage from leafhopper damage because they spin webbing on leaves. Leafhoppers do not do that.

Leafhoppers may cause some plant leaves to become dry and brown (or yellow) around the edges. Sometimes the entire leaf dries up and turns yellow or brown.

Some species of leafhoppers cause terminal leaves to become curled and stunted.

In addition to leaf damage, hoppers may leave very small, shiny excrement spots on leaves’ undersides.

Additionally, they molt between each of five development phases, so you may find papery, white discarded cast skins under the leaves.

Leafhoppers are related to three different treehopper families:

  • Membracidae
  • Aetalionidae
  • Melizoderidae

They are also distantly related to:

How Can You Tell Leafhoppers From Lacebugs?

Lacebug damage is quite similar to damage done by leafhoppers, and they also leave hard, shiny drops of excrement behind.

Nonetheless, it’s easy to tell them apart from leafhoppers because they look quite different.

Lacebugs earned their name because of the lacy pattern you can easily see on their backs.

Additionally, they are shorter and stubbier than leafhoppers, and they cannot jump in every direction.

What Is The Difference Between Leafhoppers And Grasshoppers?

As adults, both of these pests are winged, but grasshoppers can only spring forward, not sideways and backwards.

Additionally, grasshoppers have different mouth parts than leafhoppers, so they cause a different sort of damage.

Grasshoppers damage plants by biting holes in them and chewing the plant matter.

Leafhoppers pierce plants and suck the plant juices out. Leafhoppers do not eat plant leaves and stems.

What Is The Leafhopper Life Cycle?

Because there are so many different species, the details of the leafhopper life cycle can vary quite a bit. Most leafhoppers can produce several generations annually.

Generally speaking, females insert eggs into host plants’ living tissues.

The egg may remain dormant for a few weeks, months or even more than a year depending upon the type of leafhopper and the ambient temperature.

Young leafhoppers are called nymphs. They consume plant sap through their beaks (piercing mouth parts).

The young nymphs feed on the undersides of leaves. This positioning on the leaf surface provides them with protection from predators and a slightly higher humidity level.

Leafhopper nymphs look like miniatures of the adults, but they do not have wings.

They go through five stages of development (instars). Depending upon the type of leafhopper, it can take a few weeks or a few months to complete all five instars.

With each phase, they shed their exoskeletons. As the nymphs molt at each successive stage, the nymphs become larger and grow more adult-like in appearance.

They get wings in the final molt.

Adult leafhoppers range in size from an eighth of an inch to a quarter inch long.

Unlike green lacewings, leafhoppers are long and slim, and they have pointy heads.

How Long Do Leafhoppers Live?

Lifespan depends upon the type of leafhopper in question. Some types live just a few months and die when cold weather arrives.

Some are able to overwinter by finding shelter in leaf litter. Still, others migrate south to escape the cold and then return to the north in the springtime.

These may live through a whole year.

How Do Adult Leafhoppers Find Each Other?

Like their cousins, the cicadas, leafhoppers “sing” using organs called tymbals, which are located at the base of the abdomen.

Unlike cicadas, they do not sing loudly enough for us to hear them, but they do hear and find each other.

What Color Are Leafhoppers?

Coloring varies from one species to another, but leafhoppers typically come in shades of yellow, green and brown. Some are solid colored and some are mottled.

What Is Green Leafhopper?

In rice fields, green leafhoppers can be a real threat. They are very common in this setting, and they spread a viral disease known as tungro.

This virus is actually a combination of two viruses, and it causes reduced grain size and yield, as well as discoloration of plant leaves and tissues.

What Is White Leafhopper?

Like any animal, it is possible for leafhoppers to be albino. Here are some images of a leafhopper which apparently has no pigmentation.

[https://bugguide.net/node/view/202146/bgimage]

How To Get Rid And Control Leafhoppers?

The most effective control to deal with these abundant and robust pests is through the development of a diverse, integrated pest management strategy that combines cultural controls, biological pest controls and organic controls.

Here’s how:

Lower Your Expectations

Don’t expect to control these pests completely. They are too abundant, too adaptable and too diverse to ever eradicate completely.

The good news is, living with them isn’t really all that difficult.

Most of the time, they are not present in such great numbers in home gardens where they will cause huge amounts of damage. Furthermore, they face many natural challenges.

In addition to any resistance you may mount against them, they are also subject to parasites and ailments that reduce their numbers naturally.

They are especially subject to fungal infections.

Use Beneficial Insects and Natural Predators

Engage natural predators aka beneficial insects. It is always wise to cultivate a diverse population of natural predators in your garden, and most of them love to feast on leafhoppers.

Encourage common predators such as:

With a healthy leafhopper predator population, you should have little problem with leafhopper damage.

Do Ladybugs Eat Leafhoppers?

Ladybugs and lacewings in both the adult and larval stages are significant predators of leafhoppers at all life stages from egg to adult.

Keep Crops Covered

Keep your crops covered. Using a physical barrier like netting or floating row covers in the early summertime is a good way to keep leafhoppers away from juicy young plants.

When your plants have started flowering, they will be less attractive to hoppers, and you can remove the covers to allow pollinators in.

Place Sticky Traps in The Garden

Use sticky traps to monitor and control hopper populations. Yellow sticky traps are quite attractive to leafhoppers.

Place them near your plants’ leaves to lure hoppers in.

Keep track of how many hoppers you catch in a given period.

This will give you a good idea of whether your hopper population is growing or dwindling.

Use Natural Pest Control Solutions – DE, Insecticidal Soap, Neem Oil

Apply food grade diatomaceous earth to the leaf surface of plants or use an insecticidal soap and/or Neem oil spray.

If you can catch them early, a simple foliar spray of insecticidal soap and/or neem oil can be very effective.

Spray all sides of the leaves and stems with a mild solution of natural soap (e.g. liquid castile soap) and water. Alternately, you could use a neem oil solution, or you could combine the two.

Experiment to see what works best for you. These types of mild foliar sprays are most effective when reapplied once or twice a week and after every rain.

Employ Commercial Synthetic Insecticides and Pesticides

Use insecticides and pesticides as a last resort.

Naturally, leafhoppers are just as susceptible to being poisoned as any other living thing, and that’s why you should only use insecticides sparingly and when all else fails.

Leafhoppers are especially susceptible to:

  • Bendiocarb (Turcam, Closure)
  • Disulfoton (Disyston)
  • Acephate (Orthene)
  • Carbaryl (Sevin)
  • Malathion
  • Bifenthrin
  • Cyfluthrin

Generally speaking, these are the most effective on the earliest instars of the nymphs.

If you have not yet established a good population of natural predators and find that you have a heavy infestation of leafhopper nymphs, use of an insecticide would be warranted.

Be sure to follow all package label instructions carefully.

Where Do Leafhoppers Usually Live?

You can find leafhoppers on every continent around the world. They thrive equally well in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and deserts.

As long as there are plants to suck dry, hoppers are happy with a variety of on common host plants, and gardeners and farmers are challenged!

Sources: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4