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. Leafhoppers feed by sucking the sap of vascular plants, and are found almost anywhere such plants occur, from tropical rainforests, to arctic tundra. Several leafhopper species are important agricultural pests.
Details of the life cycle vary from species to species. In general, the female inserts several eggs into the living tissue of the host plant. The eggs either remain dormant for a period ranging from a month to over a year, or develop and hatch
within a few weeks. The young, known as nymphs, feed on plant sap by inserting their beaks into the vascular or parenchyma tissues of the host plant and go through a series of five moults (shedding their exoskeleton), reaching the adult stage after a period of several weeks or months. Adult males and females seek each other out for mating, locating each other through specialized courtship calls.
All feed on plant sap. Leafhopper species feed on a wide variety of vascular plant species, including grasses, sedges, broad-leafed woody and herbaceous plants of many families, and conifers. At least one leafhopper species can usually be found feeding on the each of the dominant plant species in practically every terrestrial ecosystem. Frequently several leafhopper species can be found coexisting on the same plant.
Nationwide, the potato leafhopper is a very injurious pest of forages, particularly alfalfa and clover. Both nymphs and adults feed on the undersides of the leaves. By extracting the sap, they cause stunting and leaf curl, as well as the condition called “hopperburn.” This disease is caused by the injection of a toxic substance. It is characterized by a yellowing of the tissue at the tip and around the leaf margin which increases until the leaf dies. Symptoms are sometimes confused with drought stress.