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Nature Notebook – Leafhoppers

Looking like tiny, extraneous leaves, leafhoppers can be found with their cousin aphids on plant stems or leaves. Every habitat type that has plants is home to a species of leafhopper.

“Baby” leafhoppers look similar to their elders, but without the adults’ wings. Those wings will grow bit by bit each time the nymph (young insect) molts its exoskeleton. While they are young, the nymphs elude predators by moving very quickly up, down and around the stem on which they are feeding. As adults, they can hop and/or fly away.

The leafhopper’s stylet mouthpart looks and functions like a hypodermic needle. The insect uses it to pierce the vascular system of a leaf or stem and then sucks in small amounts of phloem, or sap. Extra phloem is excreted from the abdomen and is called honeydew. This sweet substance is intoxicating to ants which act like “sugar groupies” around leafhoppers and aphids.