NC State Extension Publications

Description and Biology

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Adult potato leafhoppers, Empoasca fabae, are usually yellowish or pale green. They exhibit much color variation, often leading to misidentification. Adults often have pale or dark green spots on the head, and six or more pale spots on the back immediately behind the head. Wings are held rooflike over the abdomen. Adults are about 1/8 inch long and wedge-shaped, tapering to the rear. Females insert their white to pale, slender, elongate, and 0.9 mm-long eggs into leaf veins, petioles, and stems. Tiny nymphs hatch about 10 days later. Nymphs are similar in shape to the adults but are smaller and lack wings. They develop through five nymphal stages two weeks. Adults live about one month, but have been recorded as living as long as 120 days. Females mate within 2 days after their final molt and begin laying eggs about 6 days afterwards. An entire life cycle can be completed in about 4 weeks. Although found throughout North Carolina from mid May throughout the growing season, the potato leafhopper only overwinters along the Gulf Coast. It is carried northward by wind in spring and early summer and soon becomes well established. Although the potato leafhopper does not overwinter in North Carolina, it completes up to six generations here.

potato leafhopper ahdult

Potato leafhoppers are small, active insects.

potato leafhopper nymph

Potato leafhopper nymphs can quickly run sideways and backwards.

Host Plants

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The potato leafhopper has been reported to feed on nearly 200 kinds of plants. Flowers attacked by the potato leafhopper include dahlia, marigold, rose, and sunflower. Ornamental trees that are hosts for this leafhopper are Chinese chestnut, elm, English walnut, flowering Japanese cherry, hickory, locust, oak, and redbud. Flowering fruit trees, especially crabapple, are also hosts of potato leafhopper. Agricultural crops infested with this insect include alfalfa, apple, eggplant, peanut, potato, soybean, and sweet potato. Feeding and egg laying cause curling, stunting, and dwarfing. The leaves turn yellow, or sometimes pink or purple, and become wilted or stunted. Later, the leaf browns and dies. Larger nymphs cause most of the damage. The injection of saliva into the phloem during feeding by potato leafhoppers may cause disease-like symptoms. Infested plants may exhibit a condition known as "hopperburn" in which there is a distortion of the leaf veins, a subsequent yellowing of tissue around the margin and tip of the leaf, and eventually a rolling and curling inward of the leaf. Floral development may be reduced or obstructed completely.

scorch disease on oak

Aside from their direct damage to plants, leafhoppers also transmit scorch diseases.

Residential Recommendations

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Because of their enormous feral population that is never treated with insecticides, potato leafhoppers are susceptible to almost any insecticide labeled for residential use. Follow the directions for safe use found on the label of whatever pesticide is used. Because leafhoppers fly readily, be aware that plants can be reinfested soon after a treatment.


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For assistance with a specific problem, contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.

This Factsheet has not been peer reviewed.


Professor Emeritus
Entomology and Plant Pathology

Publication date: Feb. 23, 2018
Revised: Oct. 10, 2019

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