Treehoppers and Thornbugs

Last updatedLast updated: July 14, 2022
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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.

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