The term leafhopper is often mistakenly used for nearly any type of “hopping” insect such as grasshoppers or flea beetles known to jump from host to host. This is an incorrect use of the word since leafhoppers are a specific type of insect from the Cicadidae family and generally look strikingly similar to thrips in terms of shape and size.
The leafhopper actually earns its name from the sporadic, nearly random, movements it makes side-to-side if disturbed on a leaf. Leafhoppers are sap-sucking pests that puncture a host’s epidermis to feed on the vital sap, phloem, and sugars within.
Although damage caused by leafhoppers can be easily mistaken for several types of sap-sucking pests, one of the most evident signs of a leafhopper infestation is the presence of hopperburn, easily recognized by the curling and discoloration that occurs to the outer perimeter of an affected leaf.
How to Get Rid of Leafhoppers
- Leafhopper Distribution: At least 20,000 known species in Cicadellidae family across the world
- Leafhopper Host Plants: Potato, rose, apple, grape, berries, daisy, marigold, tomato
- Leafhopper Life Cycle: 50-90 days
- Leafhopper Eggs Per Lifetime: ~200
- Leafhopper Control: Beauveria bassiana, row covers, dish soap spray, neem oil, diatomaceous earth
- Leafhopper Predators: Sticky traps, spiders, ladybugs, lacewing, black thrips
- Most Common Leafhopper in North America: Candy-Striped Leafhopper (Graphocephala coccinea)
What Do Leafhoppers Look Like?
Leafhoppers mature to no more than a half inch long and can be easily mistaken for thrips as they too have a set of wings that extends the length of their bodies.
While their overall shape and size may not vary too much from the 20,000+ known species, the diversity of leafhopper color is truly one of the most spectacular you’re likely to find in the home garden. Leafhopper color can range anywhere from plain yellow translucence to the most colorfully radiant bodies matched only by those of tropical birds and fish.
Although the Cicadellidae family is home to numerous rainbow-colored leafhoppers around the world, one of the most monotone and commonly found species in the garden is the potato leafhopper which can be very challenging to tell apart from thrips.
Always look for damage done to host plants to help identify a possible infestation.
Leafhoppers are one of many sap-sucking insects too small to consume a host plant directly and share many of the same signs of damage as other sap suckers.
Many of these signs can include white flecking or discoloration on the leaves as a result of feeding on a host’s essential phloem, sap, and honeydew.
Although damage caused by leafhoppers can easily be mistaken for several types of sap-sucking pests, one of the most evident signs of leafhopper infestation is the presence of hopperburn.
Hopperburn can be relatively easy to recognize by the curling and discoloration that occurs to the outer perimeter of an affected leaf. While many diseases and infestations can share similar patterns of damage, only hopperburn is restricted to the edges of the leaf. Hopperburn can be easily mistaken for lack of potassium in an otherwise healthy plant.
What Do Leafhoppers Eat?
With more than 20,000 known species of leafhoppers around the world, their diets are as wildly diverse as their body color. Some of the most common species of leafhopper are known to feed on potatoes, fruiting trees, legumes, berries, alfalfa, and roses.
While many varieties of leafhoppers will infest trees and crops not typically found in the home garden, the Southern Garden leafhopper (Empoasca solana) is a monotone lime green insect which generally feeds on the more common garden crops such as tomato, pepper, melon, cucumber, lettuce, and beets.
Similar to leaf miners, hoppers will also lay their eggs inside of the protective leaf of a host plant but, unlike the leaf miners, the larvae do not hatch and tunnel within the host plant. Leafhoppers are widely understood to infest nearly any plant that is thick, waxy, or woody.
Leafhopper eggs are rarely seen with the naked eye because they are always inserted internally into a host plant for about 7-10 days until hatching.
Similar to leafminers, female leafhoppers do not lay their eggs on the surface of a host plant but, rather, insert their eggs into large stems and veins to keep safe until hatching. Once hatched, leafhoppers then feed externally on the underside of a leaf as opposed to tunneling through the internal soft tissue like larval leaf miners.
Adult female leafhoppers are known to lay about 200 eggs per lifetime and, come autumn, will begin to insert their eggs into the stems and leaves of various hosts to protect against the harsh winter to keep safe for spring.
Although difficult to see, leafhopper eggs can still be felt within a host’s leaf because the eggs are large enough to give the leaf noticeable bumps and texture.
How to Get Rid of Leafhoppers
The most readily way to combat leafhoppers in the garden is to set out yellow sticky traps like you would with any number of garden pests such as aphids, flea beetles, or fungus gnats. The distinct yellow color of the traps is proven to draw insects towards it similar to a UV bug light.
Maintaining the spiders in your garden is one of the most natural ways to help minimize a leafhopper infestation as well as introducing store-bought ladybugs and lacewing larvae.
Leafhoppers are large enough to be directly treated with any neem oil or dish soap solution, diatomaceous earth and, for larger established crops, can simply be sprayed off with a high pressure hose.
If using a commercial pesticide, try to purchase an organic fungal spray that is Beauveria bassiana-based, proven to affect leafhoppers exclusively.
- Dish Soap and Water Spray - 2 tbsp to 1 quart water
- Beauveria bassiana Spray - Natural fungi proven effective in treating many small garden pests
- Nosema locustae Baits - Dry granule containing pathogens harmful to Cicadidae
- Organic Neem Oil Spray - 1 tsp neem oil and 1/4 tsp dish soap to 1 quart water
- Capsaicin Spray - Soak 6-7 crushed dry peppers in boiling water and spray when cool
- Diatomaceous Earth - Popular treatment for a wide variety of garden pests
- Row Covers - Store bought covers to protect your garden from a variety of pests