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Home > Bugs > Bugs of Trees and Shrubs > Leafhoppers and Spittlebugs

Leafhoppers and Spittlebugs

Leafhoppers (Cicadellidae)

Leafhoppers are one of the largest families of plant-feeding insects. There are more leafhopper species worldwide than all species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians combined. Each species attacks specific host plants. As a group they feed on leaves of a wide variety of plants including many types of grasses, flowers, vegetables, fruit trees, shrubs, deciduous trees, and weeds.

Several leafhopper species are important agricultural pests, primarily because they are vectors of plant pathogens.

Spittlebugs (Cercopidae)

There are many species of spittlebugs that feed on conifers and broad-leaved ornamentals. Most are unsightly but do little damage to the plants. Two species, the pine spittlebug and the Saratoga spittlebug, are considered serious pests in Maine. Heavy infestations cause flagging branches, dead terminal growth, and stunted and distorted stems and branches, and will kill trees in two to three years.

Leafhopper/Spittlebug Comparison

Leafhoppers and spittlebugs are related and also look like each other. Leafhoppers are usually not more than 1/4 inch in length and narrower. Spittlebugs are generally a bit larger and more plump. Leafhoppers have at least one row of small spines along the hind tibia, where spittlebugs only have a few spines in this location. A most notable difference is that spittlebug nymphs make a foam and hide and feed inside it.

potato leafhopper adult aster leafhopper adult white apple leafhopper adult
Leafhopper adults are elongated, wedge shaped and somewhat triangular in cross-section. They jump and fly off readily. Whiile generally not more than 1/4 inch in length, depending on species, they can range in size from 1/8 to 1/2 inch, and their bodies are colored yellow, green, gray or they may be marked with color patterns; they may be brightly colored or similar in color to the host plant. Nymphs resemble adults but are wingless. They can run rapidly, occasionally sideways, and hop.
     
spittlebug on pine pine spittlebug up close damage from saratoga spittlebug
The larvae of the pine spittlebug inside the "spittle." Adult pine spittlebug. Damage caused by Saratoga spittlebug.

Click on images to view full-size

 

Identification and Control Information (each will open in a new window)

 

[Photos, left to right: Steve L. Brown, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org; Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org; University of Georgia Plant Pathology Archive, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org; John H. Ghent, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org; Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Archive, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Bugwood.org]

 
It is the policy of the State of Maine to minimize reliance on pesticides. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and the Maine IPM Council encourage everyone to practice integrated pest management and to use pesticides only as a last resort. The mention of pesticides in the fact sheets linked to these pages does not imply an endorsement of any product. Be sure that any product used is currently registered and follow all label directions.