Leafhopper Pests: How To Kill Off Lurking Cicadellidae
Lurking in your garden, there’s a pest which is feasting upon the leaf sap in your plants: the leafhopper. This relative of the cicada insect is nowhere near as noisy as its distant cousin. Instead, it announces its arrival by damaging the tender leaves of your favorite crop plants, sucking the life right out of them.
But what is a leafhopper, other than a jumping plant devourer? Is there a good way to prevent this pest from invading your garden, and if so, how do you do it? Let’s examine this extremely large insect family and discover how to deter the lurking leafhoppers!
Listen to this post on the Epic Gardening Podcast
Organic Products to Eliminate Leafhoppers:
Environmental Products to Eliminate Leafhoppers:
- Bonide All-Seasons Horticultural & Dormant Spray Oil
- Chapin G362 Professional Hose End Sprayer (for use with oil)
Leafhopper Preventative Options:
|Common Name(s)||Leafhopper, beet leafhopper, maize leafhopper, potato leafhopper, two-spotted leafhopper, blue-green sharpshooter, glassy-winged sharpshooter, common brown leafhopper, rice green leafhopper, green leafhopper, white apple leafhopper, and many more|
|Scientific Name(s)||Circulifer tenellus, Neoaliturus tenellus, Cicadulina mbila, Peregrinus maidis, Empoasca fabae, Sophonia rufofascia, Graphocephala atropunctata, Homalodisca vitripennis, Orosius orientalis, Nephotettix malayanus, Nephotettix virescens, Typhlocyba pomaria, and many more|
|Plants Affected||Most agricultural food crops, trees, ornamental plants, grasses and weeds|
|Common Remedies||Insecticidal soaps, pyrethrin sprays, beneficial insects such as ladybugs/lacewings/pirate bugs, dormant spray oil, floating row covers, diatomaceous earth|
Types of Leafhoppers
There’s at least 20,000 types of the serious crop pests called leafhoppers, and new varieties are being discovered every single year. Some estimates put the potential number of leafhopper types at almost 100,000! While they’re widespread, they shouldn’t be confused with the planthopper, which is an entirely different insect that looks quite similar and does the same sort of damage (and covers another 20,000 insect types).
There are types of leafhoppers which go after all plant species, including ornamentals, weeds, trees, and of course fruits and vegetables. Here’s a list of some of the worst agricultural leafhopper pests, although it barely begins to describe this widespread pest family.
Circulifer tenellus, ‘Beet Leafhopper’, ‘Neoaliturus tenellus’
The beet leafhopper is a particularly troublesome pest, as these leafhoppers are known carriers for two different bacterial plant diseases. The Citrus Stubborn Disease and the Beet Curly Top Virus are both spread by beet leafhoppers, most particularly the latter. These are widely reported throughout the United States.
Cicadulina mbila, ‘Maize Leafhopper’
Found in sub-Saharan Africa, the maize leafhopper is another carrier of disease. In this case, it is the maize streak virus which is transmitted to plants. The maize leafhopper is different from Peregrinus maidis, the “corn leafhopper”, which is actually a planthopper and an entirely different species.
Empoasca fabae, ‘Potato Leafhopper’
Millions of dollars are lost annually because of the potato leafhopper, which eats not just potato greens but beans, alfalfa, clover, and apples. The potato leafhopper is a common agricultural pest that’s found widely throughout North America.
The potato leafhopper has pronounced spines on its hind legs and six white spots behind its white eyes. The potato leafhopper also has wings that extend behind its body. These translucent wings are the best way to distinguish the potato leafhopper from the green leaf hopper.
Sophonia rufofascia, ‘Two-Spotted Leafhopper’
Native to Asia, the two-spotted leafhopper has managed to immigrate to the United States. This yellow leafhopper with a brown stripe running along its back is not a picky eater, reported to attack up to 300 different plant species including ornamentals, vegetables, and fruit crops.
Graphocephala atropunctata, ‘Blue-Green Sharpshooter’
Found from southern Canada all the way down into northern South America, the Graphocephala genus of leafhoppers is widespread. The blue-green sharpshooter, one of the Graphocephala species, is a striking example of its genus, and quite pretty. However, it also likes to eat. One favorite food is grapes, which makes it a major agricultural pest in the wine industry. It’s also a plant disease transmitter as it carries Pierce’s Disease, a type of bacterial leaf scorch that is a major issue for grape vines.
Homalodisca vitripennis, ‘Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter’
The glassy-winged sharpshooter is another leafhopper species that is widespread in the United States, primarily in the southeast. However, it was introduced to southern California and has become a major year-round pest there. It also carries and spreads Pierce’s Disease, placing southern California’s wine country at risk.
Orosius orientalis, ‘Common Brown Leafhopper’
While it came from Australia, the common brown leafhopper is now a pest worldwide. However, while it does do damage from feeding, what it’s known for is the long list of damaging diseases it carries. Among these are potato purple top wilt, lucerne witches broom, Australian lucerne, legume little leaf, tomato big bud, Australian grapevine yellows, bean summer death disease, and tobacco yellow dwarf disease.
Nephotettix spp., ‘Rice Green Leafhopper’, ‘Green Leafhopper’, ‘Nephotettix malayanus’, ‘Nephotettix virescens’
With a host plant of rice crops, the green leafhopper is actually a range of Nephotettix species. Like so many other leafhoppers, these are carriers of plant pathogens. The green leafhopper carries primarily yellowing diseases such as yellow dwarf, tungro, and yellow-orange leaf.
The green leaf hopper looks a lot like the potato leafhopper, but has no translucence on its wings. Use the translucence of the wings to determine whether or not you’re dealing with the green leaf hopper or potato leafhopper.
Typhlocyba pomaria, ‘White Apple Leafhopper’
Found throughout North America, the white apple leafhopper is a fruit tree pest, primarily amongst apples. They do not attack the fruit directly. These pests feast upon the mature leaves of the tree causing widespread yellowish-white spotting. They also leave droppings on the fruit below the leaves.
Life Cycle of Leafhoppers
While it varies from species to species, in general, the leafhopper life cycle follows a few stages.
First, the female will place leafhopper eggs inside of plant material, generally leaves. Some varieties of leafhopper lay their eggs on the underside of leaves as well. While the eggs can hatch within a couple weeks, they can also overwinter in a dormant state inside the plant for a period of some months.
Once hatched into a wingless nymph form, the young leafhoppers go through five instars, or moulting cycles when they shed their exoskeleton. During this time period, they feed on plant saps. The nymphal stage can take several weeks to progress through.
Once out of the nymphal stages and into adulthood, male and female leafhoppers seek each other out via courtship calls to mate. The cycle then begins again. This cycle can happen several times a year, and in warmer areas can be year-round.
Common Habitats For Leafhoppers
There’s so many different varieties of leafhopper that it’s easiest to just say that they are everywhere throughout North America and the rest of the world. They have the highest populations in or around agricultural regions where food is plentiful and the weather is favorable. Suburban environments where there are many gardens also attract leafhoppers, although generally more ornamental-eating ones like the rose leafhopper.
What Do Leafhoppers Eat?
All leafhopper species feed on plant sap. However, the choice of plant varies widely. While leafhoppers can easily survive on grasses and weed plants when their preferred foodstuff isn’t available, they tend to go for juicier leaf options. They will migrate to agricultural regions during the growing season precisely to feast upon their preferred foods.
How To Get Rid Of The Leafhopper
Throughout this segment, I’ll teach you how to get rid of leafhoppers. More importantly, I’ll share with you some preventative measures that you can take to keep them out of your yard for good.
Organic Leafhopper Control
When trying to establish how to get rid of leafhoppers organically, it’s hard to decide where to start. Leafhoppers move quite rapidly, and can be difficult to control. It’s best to get rid of them in the egg or larval cycle, and that’s where an insecticidal soap comes into play. Insecticidal soap and neem oil work to kill off young leafhoppers early on in their lifespans, preventing them from reaching adulthood.
Once they’re adult leafhoppers, it’s significantly more difficult to establish leafhopper control. However, pyrethrin spray works, although it may take repeated applications. Some sprays contain both pyrethrins and potassium salts of fatty acids, so they control a number of other insects as well, including flea beetles, asparagus beetles, and tomato hornworms.
Another option is a pure pyrethrin spray. This concentrated pyrethrin alternative will help against leafhoppers and the other insects mentioned above, as well as help fight off mosquitos and potato bugs.
Environmental Leafhopper Control
While they’re hard to kill with insecticidal options, leafhoppers are incredibly tasty to beneficial insects. Releasing ladybugs, lacewings, and minute pirate bugs into your garden will help kill off not just all leafhopper life cycle stages, but a number of other insects as well. Aphids, armyworms, and spider mites are also susceptible to these beneficial garden dwellers.
If you have plants that you’re trying to overwinter and want to protect, consider using a dormant oil, also known as a horticultural oil spray. This is effective on fruit trees, roses, and other ornamental plants which may be at risk of leaf hopper damage. You will need a hose end sprayer, to apply this oil.
The best prevention is to never give this leaping pest a chance to reach your plants. Using a floating row cover can aid in that process. It needs to be removed during pollination unless you’re hand-pollinating your plants. However, floating row covers keep not just leaf hoppers at bay, but also deters various moths such as the cabbage worm or cabbage looper.
Finally, if you want to irritate the leafhoppers that’ve made it into your garden, consider a dusting of diatomaceous earth. Completely harmless for people and pets, to soft-bodied insects it’s like a field of razor blades over their favorite food. It won’t necessarily kill the pests, but it certainly will make your garden a whole lot less appetizing!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Do leafhoppers bite?
A: Only leaves and stems! They have a beak-like mouth that will bite into a leaf and enable them to suck the plant sap out of it. They don’t like the taste of animals, though, so you’re spared from being bitten by this bug.
Q: Are there any leafhoppers that eat tomato plants?
A: There are really leafhoppers for almost every type of plant. Those which prey on tobacco also tend to favor tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, and they can transmit the tobacco mosaic virus to your tomatoes. There’s also leafhoppers that favor ornamental plants, such as rose leafhoppers.
Q: What damage do leafhoppers do?
A: They leave small yellow holes in plants, and are known for transmitting plant diseases as they feed.
Q: What are leafhoppers attracted to?
A: Each leaf hopper has a host plant that they are attracted to. Which type of leaf hopper we’re talking about determines which host plants they’re likely to feed on. They are also attracted to sticky traps.
Q: Do leafhoppers bite humans?
A: Occasionally a leaf hopper will bite a human, but this isn’t a common occurrence and the bite is never more than a pinch.
Q: Do hummingbirds eat leafhoppers?
A: They do! Therefore, planting honeysuckle, skullcap, and various salvias will attract hummingbirds to the garden where they can enjoy nectar and leaf hoppers too.
Q: Do leafhoppers spread disease?
A: Yes. The leaf hopper is a pest that tends to spread phytoplasma diseases.
Q: What plants do leafhoppers eat?
A: There are so many plants that differing species of leaf hopper will feed on. Most species of plants are affected, including agricultural food crops, trees, ornamental plants, grasses, and weeds.