Leafhoppers in Texas Turfgrass

Fig. 1. Leafhoppers, possibly Graminella nigrifrons, (nymph stages top left, winged adult right image) collected from Bermudagrass, Jefferson Co., TX, July 2011 (photos by B. M. Drees).

Fig. 1. Leafhoppers, possibly Graminella nigrifrons, (nymph stages top left, winged adult right image) collected from Bermudagrass, Jefferson Co., TX, July 2011. Photo by Bart Drees.

Although not a common or widespread problem, leafhoppers occasionally become locally abundant and can be quite damaging to various species of turfgrass, especially Bermudagrass.  Leafhoppers are small sucking insects in the order Hemiptera and family Cicadellidae.  Leafhoppers are similar in shape to tiny cicadas and have sucking mouthparts held between the first pair of legs underneath the body.  There are many species of leafhoppers in Texas and some are known to damage crops like alfalfa, where damage they cause is called “hopper burn.”  Most leafhoppers are small (about 1/4 inch long) and are very active; walking, hopping and flying.  Winged adults are strongly attracted to lights at night.

 

A sample of leafhopper specimens was submitted that had been collected from Bermudagrass, Jefferson Co., TX, July 2011 (Fig. 1). Numerous leafhoppers had been preserved in alcohol containing both wingless young (nymph) and winged adult stages, which is characteristic of a breeding population. Occasionally, samples contain only adult

 

stages characteristic of adults migrating to night lights or dispersing from breeding habitats.  Leafhoppers are difficult to identify and are best collected and sent to a specialist for accurate identification. The Illinois Natural History Museum has a web site devoted to leafhoppers.

 

Since 2006, a new species of leafhopper, the “invasive red-streaked leafhopper,” Blaclutha rubrostriata (Melichar), has been reported in Texas from Bandera, Bexar, Hays, Harris, Kerr, Kleberg, and Travis Counties (pers. Com. M. Quinn, http://bugguide.net/node/view/87190).  It is native to the old world and in the Uniuted States, it was previously reported only in Florida (Zahniser 2011).  Adults of this species are about 4.2 mm long and most abundant in July and early August.  They typically feed on grasses.

The incidence of leafhopper problems in turfgrass has historically been low. However, with severe drought and a new invasive species, leafhoppers could become a more important problem in the near future.

Damage

In infested lawns, most leafhoppers will hop when disturbed, making their presence noticeable. Leafhoppers feed by inserting their mouthparts into the leaf blades. While they feed, they inject toxic salivary secretions causing yellow, bleached-out spots. Feeding by developing nymphs and adults can cause yellowing of the entire turfgrass in the area of infestation.

Management

Large leafhopper infestations in turfgrass may be a symptom of frequent and intensive nitrogen fertilizer applications.  Often, simply reducing the use rate of nitrogen fertilizer will minimize the problem.  Insecticides targeting other turf pests such as chinch bugs may also be effective against leafhoppers.

Related

Author

Bastiaan M. Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M System

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Dr. Jim Reinert and Mike Quinn for supplying information used to develop this page, and Ed Riley for helping identify the leafhoppers from Jefferson Co. as not being the “invasive red-streaked leafhopper.” Review comments by Carlos Bográn and Mark Muegge are appreciated.

Citation

Zahniser, J. N., S. J. Taylor and J. K. Krejca. 2011. First reports of the invasive grass-feeding leafhopper, Blaclutha rubrostriata (Melichar)(Hepiptera: Cicadellidae) in the United States. Entomological News 121(2):132-138.