Potato Leafhopper

Empoasca fabae Harris

Appearance and Life History

Adult and nymphs on leaf Adult and nymphs on leaf
Photo by Michigan State University

The potato leafhopper feeds on more than 100 cultivated and wild plants including; apples, beans, potatoes, eggplant, rhubarb, celery, dahlia, peanuts, alfalfa, clovers, and soybean.

The adult potato leafhopper is a tiny, yellowish-green, wedge-shaped insect, about 1/8 inch (3 mm) long. The nymphal stages closely resemble the adult except that they are smaller, wingless, and more yellow in color. Both adults and nymphs are very active. The nymphs, which cannot fly, walk sideways at a rapid pace when disturbed, while adults will either fly or jump.

The potato leafhopper does not overwinter in the Midwest, but is carried annually northward from the Gulf Coast states by spring winds. Typically, adults first appear in the Midwest by the end of April or in early May. However, high populations usually do not occur until mid summer. The female lives about a month, and during this time deposits two or three tiny white eggs each day in the stems and large leaf veins of host plants. The tiny nymphs emerge from these eggs in 7 to 10 days and become adults in about two weeks. Thus, the entire life cycle requires about a month. There are probably three or four generations in the eastern Midwest each year.

Potato Leafhopper Life Cycle on Soybeans

Damage

Both potato leafhopper adults and nymphs feed on soybean, but the most serious damage is caused by the nymphs. The potato leafhopper uses its piercing-sucking mouth parts to remove plant juices. As it feeds, it injects a toxin into the plant which causes a decrease in the plant’s ability to produce photosynthate. Damage symptoms first appear as yellowish patches on the leaves with crinkling and cupping, often confused with herbicide damage. As leafhopper feeding continues, the plants become stunted. Soybean varieties which have sparse or very short leaf pubescence are most susceptible to feeding and subsequent damage. The adult and nymph are able to reach the leaf surface with less difficulty on these varieties. Also, plants under moisture stress appear to be more vulnerable to damage.

Susceptible plants severely stunted Susceptible plants severely stunted
Photo by J. Obermeyer

Damage is most likely to occur on late planted soybean. This is because potato leafhopper arrival from the south coincides with early leaf tissue development of the late planted soybean. Young soybean leaves tend to have softer pubescence which makes movement, feeding, and oviposition by leafhoppers easier.

Sampling Method

If potato leafhoppers are "kicked-up" as foliage is disturbed and some leaf discoloration/crinkling is noticed, sampling should be initiated.

For plants at the V4 growth stage or less, carefully inspect the underside of leaves of 5 plants in 5 areas for adults and nymphs. Record the number of leafhoppers and calculate the average number per plant.

For soybeans at or beyond the V5 growth stage, take 20 sweeps with a sweep net in each of 5 field areas. Immediately after completing the 20 sweeps, count the leafhoppers, both adults and nymphs, from the top to the bottom of the bag. Record only the small yellow-green leafhoppers and not the various brown leafhoppers also commonly found. Determine the average number of potato leafhoppers per sweep. Also, by selecting one plant in each sampling location, determine the average number of trifoliolate leaves per plant.

Management Guidelines

Soybean Insect Control Recommendations: E-series 77-W (PDF)

In general, soybean can withstand potato leafhopper feeding without economic loss. Under good growing conditions they normally outgrow leafhopper feeding damage. Soybean varieties under various environmental conditions can show differences in level of tolerance to potato leafhopper feeding. Sparsely pubescent soybean seedlings (V1 to V4 plant growth stages) under moisture stress, with high potato leafhopper numbers, are the most susceptible to damage and most likely to benefit from treatment.

Control may be warranted if potato leafhopper numbers reach or exceed the following levels:

Stage of Plant Growth
Stage of Plant Growth

If control is necessary, contact your state Cooperative Extension Service or click here for control materials and rates.

IPM Tip for Potato Leafhoppers