Empoasca fabae

Scientific Name Empoasca fabae Harris
Synonyms Empoasca flavescens (Fabricius).
The taxonomy of the genus Empoasca has often been unclear, so older literature should be considered with caution, as it might in fact be referring to different species.
Common Names English: Potato leafhopper; German: Amerikanische Kartoffel- Zikade; French: Cicadelle de la pomme de terre; Spanish: Saltahojas de la papa
Description Adults are about 3-4 mm (0.12 - 0.16 inch) in length, with a wedge-shaped body that is light- or yellowish-green in color, with whitish markings on the head and thorax. The wings are held like a roof over the abdomen. The nymphs resemble adults, but they lack wings until the fourth instar.



These insects rupture plant cells with their piercing-sucking mouthparts, secreting watery saliva in the process, and ingesting the resulting mixture. Depending on their host plant, they either feed more on the mesophyll or from the phloem. In addition to the mechanical damage caused by the feeding, their saliva contains toxic substances that affect plant physiology such that vascular transport of water, nutrients and the products of photosynthesis is disrupted.

The resulting „hopperburn“ symptoms - resembling those of drought or nutrient deficiency - begin at the leaf tips, after which necrotic lesions spread inwards from the leaf margins along the veins. The leaf curls and yellows, then wilts, and eventually falls off. Yield is significantly reduced in terms of both quality (e.g. protein content) and quantity.

Infested plants become stunted, senesce prematurely and in severe cases, die off. Entire fields of newly-planted crops may be completely destroyed.


During its lifetime of about a month, the female E. fabae leafhopper lays up to 6 eggs daily into the soft tissues on the undersides of leaves, near the veins. The nymphs hatch after about 1-2 weeks, and pass through five instars in 2-4 weeks. Development is hemimetabolous, so the nymphs resemble the adults. The adults mate 1-2 days after they have emerged, and oviposition begins 3-10 days later. Under favorable conditions, six or so overlapping generations per season are possible. During the cool season, adults hide under plant litter, but they can overwinter successfully only in mild climates and are killed by frost elsewhere.

This pest is capable of flying over short distances, and it is transported by the wind northwards in the spring from the coast of the Mexican Gulf towards the eastern and central states of the USA, and even as far as Canada (Ontario). Its distribution may thus vary considerably between years, depending on prevailing air currents. Due to its mobility, its local abundance may increase very rapidly at any time during the season following immigration from other crops or non-crop hosts.
As their name suggests, leafhoppers jump readily when disturbed; they can also run quite well, not only forward, but also backwards and sideways.


Additional Crop Information

E. fabae is a pest of potato, alfalfa and numerous other crops, among them eggplant/aubergine, bean, celery, clover, cucumber, cucurbits, groundnut, melon, rhubarb, strawberry, sweet potato and tomato.

Agricultural Importance

A very destructive pest of alfalfa, potato and other crops in North America. In potatoes, losses of 60-80% have occasionally been reported.


Useful non-chemical contribution to Integrated Weed Management

In some crops, timely harvest may reduce yield loss by driving away leafhopper adults, starving and exposing nymphs and thus interrupting population build-up.
Healthy, adequately irrigated plants tolerate leafhopper infestation much better than stressed ones. In greenhouses, install adequate screening over all openings to prevent immigration of leafhoppers.

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