Buffalo hopping from tree to tree? The image made me laugh, so I decided to make this pest the Garden Word of the Day.
Buffalo treehoppers (Stictocephala bisonia) get their name because they have a triangular head that looks like a buffalo in profile. Sort of. These native pests are only 1/4 inch long and bright green to brown. Because of the color and shape, they are difficult to see. Some individuals develop a horn-shape to the head that looks like a thorn. You can walk right up on one and not even know it’s there, until it leaps into the air and flies away.
Buffalo treehopper lifecycle
Every summer, male buffalo leafhoppers take to the trees and sing their tiny hearts out, but we can’t hear them. If we could, they would sound something like cicadas, or crickets. His song attracts females for the normal reproductive activities. Late summer through early autumn, females lay eggs using a blade-shaped ovipositor that cuts a series of slits in twigs and stems. Each cut may contain a dozen eggs. The next year, in late spring, nymphs emerge. They look like miniature adults, but with feathery spines. After several molts, they emerge as adults.
Damage caused by buffalo treehoppers
Well, they break off entire branches, right? Just kidding. These small pests begin their destructive behavior during the nymph stage when they drop to the ground and feed on grasses and herbaceous plants. As they mature, they begin feeding on many different fruit trees, particularly apple, pear, cherry, prune, and quince. They also feed on ash, hawthorn, elm, and locust, and a wide variety of herbaceous (non-woody) plants.
All stages of buffalo leafhopper are sap-suckers. They use piercing mouthparts to tap into the phloem for a sugar feast. This feeding results in a sticky sweet discharge called honeydew. Buffalo leafhopper damage is minimal, but big populations can cause problems with sooty mold fungi feeding on the honeydew.
Buffalo treehopper controls
Since they hop like crazy and can fly, control is difficult. A strong spray from a garden hose can dislodge insects from a specific host (for a while). While not nearly as interesting as trying to round-up a herd of forest-dwelling bovines, insecticidal soaps are effective. The best treatment you can give plants being sucked dry by buffalo leafhoppers is to hose them down to wash off the honeydew.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!