Friday, August 12, 2011

The splendor of a leafhopper

Since moving here in December 2007, into a bleak and desolate property with big trees that I loved when I first saw them, we've amassed a big list of insects who have passed through or made their home in the yard. Burning the property on regular rotations with varying intensities has increased biomass, of course, and increased the diversity of biota. Lots of pollinators, of course, come in for the wildflower diversity, and a wicked wheel bug shows up every fall under my porch light. We see beetles, including the common green tiger beetle that can be found on paths in woodlands throughout Missouri. But among the most colorful and darling of them all is the candy striped leafhopper (Graphocephala coccinea) who makes his home in a thick, rigid stand of Silphium perfoliatum under the walnut tree.

According to a roving naturalist in New York, candy striped leafhoppers are among the most common insects in Manhattan, showing up in little stoopside plantings of ornamentals and big trees. These leafhoppers are common throughout North America, and often found in urban settings, but that doesn't diminish their beauty. Known from woodlands and meadows, they are dependent on supple vegetative growth. Candy striped leafhoppers are sapsuckers, living on the sap from live plants. They lay their eggs in the stems of the plants upon which they feed. Other leafhoppers are loyal to certain host plants, but candy striped leafhoppers are generalists. They have been documented as feeding on Rubus sp., sunflowers, and, in my yard, the stiff, rigid leaves of Silphium.

According to gardening websites, these leafhoppers can cause damage to plants, but I haven't noticed it on my own. Some websites promote killing leafhoppers, but mine won't. The insects will pierce a leaf to suck the sap from it, leaving a little damage, but they don't cause the damage that, say, a Japanese beetle can cause on grape leaves. Their mouthparts are secretly hidden behind that big smile of a black stripe that runs across their faces. They may cause damage and serve as vectors for certain plant diseases that cause wilt and yellowing. I haven't noticed damage caused by any of the leafhoppers in the yard, and if I do, I probably won't care a whit, just pleased they found my yard hospitable enough and full of enough rapidly growing plant life that they themselves could find a meal, lay eggs, and add to the diversity of the area. Candy striped leafhoppers can rest assured that I am not one of the 50 or more people who wrote in to a gardening blog proclaiming that they will kill leafhoppers if discovered. How could you kill a creature like this one?



Anonymous said...

Here, here!

Kbanner said...

I love your picture, and I love insects! This Friday at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center, we will be having our annual "Insect-O-Rama" event, which is one of my favorites. Wish I could find such a handsome leafhopper to show the public!