How to identify treehoppers

How to identify treehoppers

Often mistaken for leafhoppers, the treehopper can usually be distinguished by the interesting hump on its back. With over 2,000 species of this insect found throughout the world, one would think that the treehopper is easy to observe. But, in fact, this somewhat shy little creature can be difficult to discover quite often since it tends to quickly remove itself from any type of disturbance. Found in the Membracidae family and from the Homoptera order of bugs, the treehopper’s name leads one to believe that this insect hops around on the branches of trees.

On the contrary, when disturbed, these insects tend to crawl quickly to the other side of the branch or hop into the air and fly. The two species that are most common are the buffalo treehopper and the two-spotted treehopper. To observe the buffalo treehopper one would need to find patches of early summer clover or asters since this is their favored food source. The two-spotted treehopper can usually be observed among the smallest branches of the bittersweet or locust trees.

It is best to enter either of these areas with great caution or plan to sit quietly for a while since this insect is easily spooked away from its habitat when an intruder arrives.

The buffalo treehopper has a body that is bright green and will be hard to spot in its natural environment. The two-spotted treehopper is a bit more distinct but still may be difficult to observe since its body protrusion gives it the appearance of being a small blackthorn on the tree branch. But if the thorn suddenly moves as you approach, simply stand still for a moment and this amazing little insect may return to its original position.

In either case the body of this insect will be stocky with an enlarged back area that extends the length of the body, even hooding the head as with the buffalo treehopper or rising to a thorny protrusion at the tail, as with the two-spotted treehopper. The buffalo treehoppers you observe among the clover or asters are quite probably nymphs but adults are known to feed on these food plants as well. This is because adult buffalo treehoppers only feed at these sites preferring to make their nest among the smaller branches of elm or apple trees.

The treehopper is known to feed on the sap of specific woody plants. Studies suggest that in various species the thorax area of the body has taken on different shapes, such as thorns or leaf buds, as a way of camouflaging this insect to keep it safe from predators. As adults, the treehopper is one of the most interesting to observe and especially because of their shapes.

Although adult females may produce more than one generation in some species, the mating season most easily observed is during the later part of the summer months. Much like the leafhopper, the males locate a receptive female with a call that is inaudible to the human ear. Once mating has occurred, the female deposits her eggs.

With the two-spotted treehopper, this is done in splits made by the female at the tips of small branches on the host tree. After the two-spotted treehopper female has released her eggs she will remain over them to produce a white, foamy substance by rocking her abdomen.
The female buffalo treehopper makes splits in the bark of the host tree shaped like tiny semi-circles to lay her eggs.

Unlike the two-spotted treehopper, she does not produce the protective foamy substance to cover the eggs. Eggs laid in the later summer months by either species will not hatch until the early spring of the following year. In some species the impregnated females hibernate for the winter and return to lay their eggs during early spring.

Eggs that have been laid throughout the spring and summer months will hatch in less than a month. Once hatched the nymphs immediately begin feeding, in some cases dropping to the ground to find more succulent sources on which to feed. In some treehopper species, ants that gently brush the insect with their antenna causing them to secrete a substance known as honeydew attend the nymphs.

This substance is then collected by the ant and used as a food source. During the next few weeks, the nymphs will go through five molts finally emerging as adults in around six weeks.

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