Friday, October 12, 2007
When and where seen. I saw several red-banded leafhoppers on my parsley plants on October 8. My photos from last year of these bugs on the parsley are date-stamped October 9. I see them throughout the summer on other plants in the garden, notably milkweed, but perhaps by this time of year the parsley is the juiciest option available.
Identifying characteristics. This bug is small — about one centimeter long — but is so brightly colored and sharply marked that you can easily distinguish it. The predominant color is red and there are thin straight turquoise-blue lines down the body leaving wide red bands between. The thorax has a blue curvy mark like the number 3. The legs are yellow and as with all leafhoppers there is a row of spines on the outer edge of the hind leg tibia. You can just make out these spines in the photo above — along the edge of the abdomen where the hind leg is folded close to the body.
Behavior. Leafhoppers can jump long distances — some of them can cover 40 times their body length in a single leap. They don't hop like a human, using only one leg, but more like a rabbit, a kangaroo, or a grasshopper using both their hind legs.
If you wait patiently and look closely you can sometimes see the hind legs cocked in preparation for a rapid departure. Leafhoppers feed on sap they suck from the leaves and stems of plants. Some species are agricultural pests. They may take too much sap from the plant, or plug the phloem and xylem, and in some cases they are vectors for other organisms that cause plant diseases. I have never noticed a worrisome level of injury to any plants hosting the red-banded leafhopper.
Some leafhoppers are called sharpshooters because of the way they eject liquid waste. Red-banded leafhoppers have been observed "firing" their waste at the rate of one drop per second for a period as long as two minutes. I haven't seen this yet — maybe my parsley is not as juicy as I thought.
Life cycle. Most leafhoppers spend the winter in their adult stage sheltering at the base of grasses or in leaf litter where they stay until late spring or summer. They lay their eggs in fresh new leaves and stems and the nymphs usually hatch in about two weeks. The red-banded leafhopper nymph is yellow but has the same form and shape as the adult. The nymphs molt five times as they progress into adults.
References. A Guide to Observing Insect Behavior, Donald W. Stokes; Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, Eric R. Eaton & Kenn Kaufman; Borror and Delong's Introduction to the Study of Insects, Charles A. Triplehorn & Norman F. Johnson.
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