With well over 10,000 species of leafhoppers in the Cicadellidae family, this tiny insect can be found in almost any grassy area throughout the world. At first glance, the leafhopper might remind you of a miniature grasshopper. But don’t underestimate this cute little insect whose most distinguishing characteristic is found in their mouth. The mouth of a leafhopper has minute hollow, straw-like projections that are used to pierce the stems or leaves of plants and suck out the sap
. Most leafhoppers range in size from 1/8 to one inch long with bright green bodies. Since over 700 species of this insect live in the United States alone, it is relatively easy to find. Wait until the early part of spring and then find an area of weeds or tall grass. Gently brush your hand through the vegetation and watch for the tiny green insects that either fly or hop away in every direction.
To be sure what you are seeing is a leafhopper, closely inspect one to see if the wings are folded over its back in a tent shaped manner. In some species of leafhoppers the wings may be colorful but all species will have the presence of jagged looking spines along the back legs.
Although some species of leafhoppers prefer apple trees, others are known to prefer the vegetable garden and especially beans or potatoes. These little guys aren’t too picky in most species though, since they can be found in any type of environment that provides them with some form of plant life.
If you watch a leafhopper closely you will notice that some can fly and hop while others appear to crawl. The difference is in their stage of development. Adults will fly or hop to remove themselves from harm but leafhoppers that are still in the nymph stage are not developed enough to fly so they simply run away. If you watch this closely when it is occurring, you will notice that when this tiny creature runs it moves sideways.
Interestingly, some adult species are known to migrate by flying over one hundred miles during the spring just to find a specific food source. But in most cases they will eat whatever plant source is available and it is not uncommon to find several different species feeding on the same plants.
When leafhoppers first appear in early spring they immediately begin a frenzy of feeding, searching for mates and mating.
Studies have shown that the leafhoppers have a system of communication that is much like the cicadas even though its sounds are not audible to the human ear. Much like the cicadas, these sounds are used during the mating season to attract the females to the males. After mating the females will lay her eggs directly into the leaves or stem of the food source plant. Once the nymphs have hatched, which in most cases is around two weeks, they will feed on the plant for the next four weeks.
During this time the nymph will go through five different molts, as they become adults. A single female can produce four or more broods each season with the last brood returning to the ground to spend the colder months.
Predators of the leafhopper include various species of birds, spiders, lizards, robber flies, some species of wasp, some species of moths and assassin bugs. But there are also parasitic predators that attack these tiny insects. One wasp from the Dryinidae family is known to grasp the leafhopper and lay her eggs prior to releasing the insect.
The larvae from this wasp will feed on the leafhopper, eventually destroying its ability to reproduce. A small fly from the Pipinculidae family is another parasitic predator. The female is known to grasp the leafhopper and rise into the air to lay her eggs before dropping it back to the ground. The larvae develop inside the leafhopper, eventually breaking it open to escape.
Leafhoppers are known to cause problems in some areas of plant life. In most cases, areas of a plant they have fed on will have tiny spots or leaves that curl and are brown on the edges. Some species of the leafhopper is considered a serious pest in agricultural communities. As this insect eats it secretes a kind of juice that is often called honeydew, which is eaten by other insects.