Potato Leafhopper
Empoasca fabae (Harris), Cicadellidae, HEMIPTERA


Adult - Because many species of leafhoppers look alike, entomologists studying these insects must rely heavily on examination of internal genital structures, as well as external characters, to distinguish various species. About 3 mm long and generally spindle-shaped, the potato leafhopper has a green body with very small yellowish, pale, or dark green spots. Though it can fly, the leafhopper usually jumps when disturbed.

Egg - About 1 mm long, the white egg is elongate in shape.

Nymph - Several nymphal stages exist, each of which is wingless and smaller than the adult. Though paler, the nymph is colored similarly to the adult.


Distribution - During summer, potato leafhoppers are found from the Atlantic coast to the Rocky Mountains. They are absent throughout most of the winter months which they spend in the Gulf states. Leafhoppers migrate into North Carolina in early summer and become established on a wide range of plants throughout the growing season.

Host Plants - Potato leafhoppers feed on more than 200 cultivated and wild plants. In addition to fruit trees and forage crops, vegetables such as bean, potato, eggplant, and rhubarb are also subject to infestation.

Damage - Potato leafhopper nymphs and adults feed on the undersides of leaves. By extracting sap, they cause stunting of plants, curling of leaf margins, and crinkling of the upper surfaces of leaves. While feeding, leafhoppers also inject a toxic substance into plants which, in most vegetable hosts, causes a condition known as "hopper-burn." This disease is characterized by a yellowing of the tissue at tips and margins of leaves which increases until the leaves die. Symptoms of leafhopper damage are sometimes confused with drought stress.

Life History - Potato leafhoppers winter in the Gulf States and migrate northward each year on spring winds. They arrive in North Carolina by midsummer. Three to 10 days after mating, females use their sharp ovipositors to thrust eggs into the main veins or petioles of leaves. Each female leafhopper lives a month or more and produces an average of two to three eggs daily. Eggs hatch in about 10 days, and the nymphs mature in about 2 weeks. Nymphs usually develop on the leaves where they hatched from the eggs. They molt five times before becoming adults. Mating occurs approximately 48 hours after maturation, and the life cycle is repeated. Three or four generations are produced each year in North Carolina.


The potato variety Delus is highly resistant to potato leafhoppers. The use of systemic insecticides at planting or contact insecticides as necessary throughout the season will adequately control these pests. For recommended insecticides and rates, consult the current North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual.

Return to AG-295 Table of Contents