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Potato Leafhopper

Empoasca fabae

Potato Leafhopper

A close up image of a Empoasca fabae potato leafhopper against a black background
Empoasca fabae P1550790a by xpda (CC BY-SA 4.0)
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Empoasca fabae, widely known as the potato leafhopper, is a true bug (Order: Hemiptera). It's primarily a pest of potato crops, but it also uses many other plants as hosts, including beans, clover, maple, wisteria, alfalfa, birch and apple. Although they're a severe pest of potato, only a third of the population is proposed to occupy farmland. Other favoured habitats include forests and wasteland. The most serious symptoms they inflict on potato is premature plant death (in young plants) and a phenomenon called 'hopper burn'. This occurs when yellow patches, caused by a sudden loss of chlorophyll in the plant, dries out and turns brown. Symptoms appear similar to sun scorch. They're a migratory insect, spending warmer months in the north then flying south in the winter.
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Traits

Has an abundance of predators to help control them in the garden.
Important agricultural pest in the USA.

Appearance

Adults: They're tiny, elongate and bullet-shaped insects (length: 3-5mm/ 1/8 an inch). They're pale green with silver-white markings (dots) on the head. There's an additional white 'H' shape on the thorax followed by a spot. The wings fold over the body like a tent. The wingtips fade to an opaque white. Nymphs: Always smaller, paler and lacking wings. Eggs: So tiny and typically injected into the plant, so not seen by gardeners.

Symptoms

Foliage discolouration. Yellowing. Wilting at the leaf tips. Hopper burn Premature plant death in potato. Severe leaf injury common in potato. More subtle symptoms in bean. Tree growth stunted with close spaced leaves. Tiny pale green and highly active nymphs beneath leaves.

Activity

Diurnal

Personality

Order

Hemiptera

Family

Cicadellidae

Metamorphosis

Incomplete

Distribution

Eastern North America and some parts of Canada

Biological treatment

Leafhoppers are a food resource for spiders, parasitic wasps and small insect-eating birds, so attracting these to your garden will limit the damage caused by these bugs. This can be done by planting pollinator-friendly flowers, hanging baskets, bird tables, climbing plants, or incorporating some form of habitat/ insect hotel in the garden. Neem oil can be useful on small to medium-sized plants. Neem oil should only be applied during cool periods of the day.

Chemical treatment

In most cases, leafhoppers won't cause significant damage. However, some species can be problematic. If a chemical treatment is sought, please check with your local regulating body for guidance on active ingredients and their authorisation for use. Plants that are in flower should never be sprayed due to the dangers they pose to pollinators. There are an array of contact insecticides available for use on the market that is more environmentally friendly than the above products (e.g. natural pyrethrum/pyrethrins and insecticidal soaps). Persistent products include synthetic insecticides with a contact mode of action (e.g. cypermethrin, phenothrin, lambda-cyhalothrin and deltamethrin). These can still be toxic to some wildlife and a pollutant to water bodies, so please take care to research products and read instructions carefully before using them.

Attracts

Herbaceous legumes and various deciduous trees.
A close up of a white and yellow Solanum tuberosum flower

Potato

Solanum tuberosum

Alfalfa

Medicago sativa

Maple

Acer spp.

Birch

Betula spp.

Apple

Malus spp.

A close up of some red Rubus idaeus fruits and some green leaves

Raspberry

Rubus idaeus

Wisteria

Wisteria spp.

Clover

Trifolium spp.

Repels

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