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Treehoppers and Thornbugs

Kingdom: Animalia 
Phylum: Arthropoda 
class: Insecta 
Order: Hemiptera 
Suborder: Auchenorrhyncha 
Family: Membracidae 
Species: Umbonia crassicornia (thornbug); Spissistilus festinus (three-cornered 
Alfalfa Hopper; Stictocephala bisonia (Buffalo Treehopper) 

Treehoppers and Thornbugs are very similar insects and get their names from its 
club or thorn-shaped back. When on host plants, they blend in the plant to 
protect themselves from its predators. The thorn on the thornbug discourages 
other predators from eating it, often confusing them with a thorn. Adult 
treehoppers and thornbugs are identified by their green or yellow body color 
with reddish lines and brown markings. The Three Cornered Alfalfa Hopper and the 
Buffalo Treehopper are grouped in with treehoppers and thornbugs and are 
considered pests. 

Female treehoppers and thornbugs lay her eggs in the bark of trees. Using her 
saw-like ovipositor, she makes slits in the plant stem tissue where she deposits 
her eggs. Some eggs are laid on top of leaves or stems. Other species sit on the 
eggs to protect them from predators and parasites. Females will also buzz her 
wings whenever intruders are nearby. Eggs hatch after about twenty days, after 
which the female stays and tends to her colony. Some gregarious species will 
work together to protect each others eggs. Adults produce up to four generations 
per year. 

Nymphs and adult treehoppers and thornbugs pierce plant stems with their beaks 
and feed upon the sap. Nymphs have an anal tube unlike adults that deposits 
honeydew away from its body. Ants are attracted to this honeydew and they help 
to provide protection from predators. 

The Three Cornered Alfalfa Hopper is part of the tree hoppers because they 
actively hop and fly with disturbed. Eggs hatch and develop through five stages 
before becoming winged adults. Host plants include Alfalfa, clovers, cowpeas, 
Bermuda grass, Johnson grass, barley, oats, wheat, soybeans, sunflowers, 
tomatoes, vetch and weeds. 

The Buffalo Treehopper gets its name from its hump-backed resemblance to that of 
a buffalo. Females lay her eggs in apple, cherry, pear, prune and quince trees. 
they produce one generation per year. Predators include birds, spiders, mantids 
and toads. 

As a Pest 
The three cornered Alfalfa hopper feeds on the sap within the plant causing the 
stems of soybeans and alfalfa to become brittle and break off. Damage on 
soybeans and peanuts can be seen by brown lesions on the plant. Lesions will 
callus over and cause small raised bumps. They can cause substantial damage to 
peanut growers usually in the Carolinas. 

The Thornbug is a pest found in Southern Texas, Central America, Mexico and year 
round in Southern Florida. They are pests of ornamental and fruit trees. They 
cluster around twigs, branches and small tree trunks. Damage is caused by 
sucking the sap from the stems and by the females cutting slits into the stems. 
The honeydew secreted by nymphs can develop sooty mold growth and can become a 
nuisance to homeowners. Plants that can be damaged include hibiscus, powderpuff, 
womans tongue tree, jacaranda trees, royal Poinciana trees, citrus trees, bottle 
brush trees, Jerusalem thorn trees, date palms, bag pod trees and avocado fruit 
trees as well as holly trees. Damage also occurs on automobiles that are located 
near host plants by the accumulation of honeydew. Children are at risk as well 
due to stepping on the spines of thornbugs that drop out of trees. Wounds heal 
slowly and can become infected. 

Our thanks to Lani Powell for research and writing which made this information page possible!

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