San Diego Floral Association
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Friend or Foe: Buffalo Treehopper
Reprinted from: January/February 2008, Volume 99, Number 1
Two usually shy adult Buffalo Treehoppers are snapped resting on a jasmine stalk.
Photo: Amy R. Wood
What is this insect? A sap-sucker. Sure, it sounds like a taunt you might hear on a grade-school playground, but it is actually a hyphenated curse uttered by gardeners everywhere when they see the sap-sucking Buffalo Treehopper (Stictocephala bisonia). Closely related to the leafhopper, Buffalo Treehoppers specialize in sucking juice from trees and herbaceous plants. Adult Buffalo Treehoppers are a half inch or shorter, are green or brown in appearance and appear to be wedge-shaped; the prominent hump on the back gives the insect its distinctive name.
Adults use camouflage to survive, hoping that you won’t notice them sitting on your plants and that you’ll either overlook them, or mistake them as a thorn or other part of the plant. They have small wings and are notoriously shy, flying away if given too much attention. Juvenile Buffalo Treehoppers are very small, black and have spiny backs. These little guys stick together, sometimes congregating in large swaths. They are sometimes care-taken by ants, who feed on the honeydew created by the Buffalo Treehoppers’ sap-sucking.
What do they do? The Buffalo Treehopper slices open plants and then sucks out the juices from the small slits. They target a number of trees, including the elm, poplar, ash and apple. They are also attracted to herbaceous plants, such as tomatoes, jasmine and asters. While the damage from one insect isn’t severe, sap-sucking behavior can attract other sap-sucking pests, as well as ants. If the Buffalo Treehoppers are concentrated on a plant or branch, their sap-sucking can inhibit the infested area’s growth. The weeping sap can also host sooty mold.
Adult Buffalo Treehoppers lay eggs beneath the bark of trees or within the stems of herbaceous plants; the eggs overwinter, hatching the following year. If hatching from a tree, the nymphs will head for the grass and weeds below for sustenance; if hatching from a plant (such as a Night Blooming Jasmine), they’ll go to work on the host plant.
So should you eradicate or encourage? Definitely eradicate. While they won’t mow down your garden like a pack of hungry locusts, Buffalo Treehoppers are foes. Their behavior is in no way beneficial and they can do serious damage to your plants if there are enough of them and they’re left unchecked. To eradicate juveniles, use a forceful blast of water, insecticidal soap or, if you really want them gone, apply rubbing alcohol with a Q-tip. The adults are harder to deal with, as their armor protects them pretty well from the water, and they don’t seem to mind the soap. Aside from plucking them from the plant and manually disposing of them, try Neem Oil. Beneficial insects like mantids and spiders, as well as birds like the American Robin, are also known predators. —Amy R. Wood
Mission: To promote the knowledge and appreciation of horticulture and floriculture in the San Diego region.