These insects feed on dozens of garden vegetables, ornamentals, native plants and weeds. They look like moths, jump like fleas, and their nymphs have long waxy filaments coming out of their abdomens. Would you be able to identify a passionvine hopper?
Common name: Passionvine hopper (nymphs are called “fluffybums”)
Scientific name(s): Scolypopa australis – Family Ricaniidae, in the Order Hemiptera (true bugs)
Description: Adult Passionvine Hoppers are under 1cm in body length and resemble hairless brown moths, with wings mottled in a pattern of clear windows and brown markings. The wings are held flat and diagonally when resting. Nymphs are green-brown with a fanned-out tuft of white waxy hairs at the tip of the abdomen.
If disturbed, nymphs and adults will jump suddenly, with a loud snap or clicking noise.
Geographic distribution: Passionvine hoppers are native to eastern Australia and Tasmania, but were introduced to New Zealand in the late 1800s and have become a widespread pest there as well.
Habitat: Adults and nymphs gather at the growing tips of plants, feeding on sap. Eggs are laid inside plant stems and occasionally inside bamboo stakes, and the hole covered with pulped plant fibers. The eggs will then hatch in late spring, reaching adulthood within 4 months.
Pest status: Passionvine hoppers are pests of passionfruit, kiwifruit, avocado, and many other fruits and vegetables, as well as feeding on a wide range of native plants and ornamentals. They also feed on weeds including lantana and Japanese honeysuckle. In large numbers they can weaken or kill a plant, and may also spread plant diseases.
As they excrete large amounts of excess sugar as honeydew, sooty mould growth is another sign of infestation. The honeydew can attract ants and honeybees. Honeybees attracted by the honeydew may inadvertently poison their own hives, as the honeydew excreted by the hoppers will also contain any toxins present in the plant.
In some cases these toxins can affect humans eating the honey. In New Zealand, if this honeydew secretion is produced from the sap of the poisonous tutu shrub (Coriaria), the resulting honey can causing illness and delirium in humans. Although the last recorded death was over a century ago, there are occasionally poisoning cluster when a batch of contaminated honey is produced.
Treatment: Infestations can be killed with approved pyrethroid pesticides, as long as the usual care is taken for any pesticide used around edible plants. Any weeds that the hoppers might be using as alternate food plants – lantana, bitou bush, Scotch broom, etc – should be inspected for signs of infestation and removed.
Daniel Heald, technician and entomologist