Glassy winged sharpshooters (GWSS) are a common pest in the southeastern US.
They’re big. They’re scary. And they’re destructive.
These bugs are considered to be a leafhopper.
But they’re 5 times the average size of a random one you’d see in your yard (spanning up to 0.5 inches!).
The scariest part about them?
They’re carriers of pathogens (plant-wise). These pathogens can kill entire fields of crops.
But if you’re just a regular ol’ gardener, you don’t want these guys regardless.
They can eat your blooms, destroy your foliage, and mess up your plants in more than one way.
In this guide, you’ll read about:
- Why glassy winged sharpshooters are in your garden
- Where they’re coming from
- What they’re eating
- How to get rid of glassy winged sharpshooters
- How to keep them out of your garden
Bookmark this page so you can easily find it again on your journey to control, repel, and manage these pests.
While it’s not possible to write a guide for every single sharpshooter infestation, this one serves as GENERAL tips/suggestions for insect control. Your individual needs WILL vary.
If you have any questions even after getting through this guide, please leave a comment at the end of the page. I’ll try to get back to you ASAP (as usual!).
Sound good? It’s time to send those glassy sharpshooter flying (out of your garden).
What’s a glassy-winged sharpshooter?
While it may have a cool name, the glassy-winged sharpshooter is known as Homalodisca vitripennis.
It was formerly called H. coagulata before the nomenclature changed.
This bug looks like a small grasshopper or leafhopper to the untrained eye. It was first introduced into California in the 1980s from plant foliage.
Later on, the sharpshooters migrated through the southeast US. Now it can be found in the southeastern US (Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico) where it natively feeds on plant material.
The glassy-winged sharpshooter is officially a leafhopper. They’re much bigger than “regular” ones.
They’re big, quick, and pretty gnarly looking. But there are some things you can do to get rid of them naturally. These guys may look scary, but they’re generally not interested in humans.
They’d rather flee with their powerful wings and legs rather than cause trouble. That doesn’t mean you can just let them feast on your plants though.
They’re destructive and vectors of plant pathogens that can be harmful to your garden.
Other common names refer to the glassy-winged sharpshooter.
Here are some other aliases:
- H. vitripennis
- H. coagulata
- Grasshopper (mistakenly)
- Brown leafhopper
- Big leafhopper
Depending on where you’re at, the locals will have various names for these pests.
In the southeastern regions, you’ll find them natively hanging out in huge numbers
In California, you’ll find them throughout the San Joaquin valley where they inhabit their preferred host plants.
What does a sharpshooter insect look like? – Insect identification
The GWS is a relatively large pest compared to other leafhoppers, which are usually just about 1/10 of an inch in length (3mm). When fully grown, the adults can be up to 0.5” in length. That’s 5 times the average size of a leafhopper you’ll find in your garden!
The hard exoskeleton is usually black or brown paired with wings. They can also be yellow, green, gray, or any hybridized colors. Even albino white.
They have fully developed wings that are transparent (clear) with venation that disappears over time. Since the wings are seen through, they look brown or black because you see their body color beneath the wings.
There is a segregated head that’s the same color as the body. One easy way to identify the glassy-winged sharpshooter is to look for white or yellow spots on the head of the bug.
This is one way to distinguish the GWS from other relatives. Numerous spots on the head make it easy to tell.
As for the nymphs, they’re very similar to the adult, albeit smaller, don’t have wings yet, and are olive in color. They also have huge, bulging black eyes that fade when they grow up.
Adults don’t have this phenotype. The glassy-winged sharpshooter is easy to identify once you know what to look for.
The female adult deposits a white, chalky residue that she holds in her upper wings. It creates white spots, signaling that she’s about to lay eggs.
Upon laying the egg batch, the chalky material is used to protect the batch of eggs. She’ll cover the entire egg batch with this residue.
So if you ever see white spots on the wings, it’s a female sharpshooter bug for sure.
Each female will lay up to a dozen eggs in a single batch, neatly placed. The eggs are laid in rows, side by side. They’re hidden beneath leaves, under the epidermis of young foliage.
The eggs first look like small green blisters on the leaf epidermis. Then they turn brown when they hatch.
You can use this to tell if glassy-winged sharpshooters have been in your plants because the leaf turns permanently brown on the underside.
You can also use this knowledge to prune off leaves you know have eggs stuck on the bottom of them.
Eggs hatch in 10-14 days on average, depending on the temperature.
Nymphs will come out and feed on leaf petioles. They prefer younger succulent stems because they’re easy to digest. Adults will show up in June or July.
They mate in the summer, then repeat the process from mid-June to October. Then they deposit their second batch.
The GWS only produces 1-2 progeny per year. When the cold comes, the adults will feed on citrus or other non-deciduous foliage until the spring comes.
Then they’ll eat on leafless twigs or other deciduous plant sap in the daytime, then back to non-deciduous plants during the night.
Overwintering adults will lay eggs from February to April. The first generation of eggs is on non-deciduous plants only.
Where is the glassy-winged sharpshooter native to?
They’re found natively in the wild in a variety of habitats, including:
- Native woodlands
- Riparian plants
- Urban zones
- Industrial zones
- Agricultural zones
- Commercial farms
As for actual locations, the GWS is found across the US. Some areas of southern California (Kern County, San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Solano, Butte, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Contra, Tulare, and the San Joaquin Valley).
Where do they hide? Where are they found?
Glassy sharpshooters will hide in a variety of habits.
Even though they have a large size (up to half an inch for adults), they can camouflage themselves well in dense foliage. These buggers are found in their host plants, where they hide, mate, and feed.
When disturbed, they’ll go into hiding by rapidly jumping or flying. The GWS has over 100 plant hosts in over 35 plant families. You may have come across them when you prune, harvest, or walk by your plants.
The nymphs may be found on plants with greenish-gray coloring with bulging red or blackeyes. The eggs can be found on the bottom of the leaves. The eggs have a waxy coating. Don’t try to catch one.
What do they eat?
The GWS feeds on the plant fluids in the xylem, which are the main water “tubes” of the plant. They have piercing mouthparts that can suck the sap out of the xylem.
While feeding rarely will cause permanent damage to the leaves, it can be deadly to younger plants or if there are lots of sharpshooter pests.
The insects will excrete liquid, which can make your plant’s leaves look whitish. This is not damaging to the plant but looks ugly.
The white stain can be a nuisance when plants are heavy with infestation. Their liquid excrement damages nearby surface too, such as vehicles, buildings, or patio furniture. If you’ve seen white spots all over your plants, it’s likely the work of glassy-winged sharpshooter bugs.
During the summertime, GWS can cause plant wilt, especially if there are a lot of them feeding on the same host plant.
Glassy-winged sharpshooter host plant list
The GWS has a bunch of host plants that it’ll eat. Numerous woody plants, as well as perennial herbaceous or annuals, are all common infestation sites.
Some of the most common lists of host plants include:
- Crepe myrtle
- Heavenly bamboo
- Some roses
The preference for a host plant will change depending on the time of year, species, and location. The first or second progeny also has varying diet preferences.
The nutrition value of host plants, competition, and availability influence what they eat. Some plants are used for eating. Others are used for depositing eggs.
Is the glassy-winged sharpshooter an invasive species?
Yes, it’s considered to be invasive in many parts of the US. This guy will tear up plant material like nothing. They’re a threat for commercial growers.
States like California, Hawaii, and other southeastern states have labeled it invasive due to the pathogen it carries which can lead to Pierce’s disease in plants.
Are glassy-winged sharpshooters harmful?
It depends on what you’re growing.
If you’re growing crops, they can be a serious threat.
Some host plants, such as grapes or citrus, can infect them with Xylella fastidiosa, which can kill the fruit. It also can cause leaf scorch.
For the average gardener, the GWSS can do some damage, but rarely enough to be extensive.
In the urban garden, there are rarely enough glassy sharpshooters to do any damage. Plus, Xylella is rarely seen in these environments.
Do they bite? Are they poisonous?
The GWSS is not poisonous and doesn’t bite humans, pets, or other animals. It feeds exclusively on plant sap.
But even then, you should avoid directly touching the bug because it can transmit dangerous plant vectors that can infest your garden.
Sharpshooter bugs aren’t good for anything. They have no positive impact on gardens other than being a nuisance.
Glassy-winged sharpshooter damage
These bugs do extensive damage to their host plants, especially younger plants that aren’t well established yet. The GWS will do more damage to some plants than others.
For example, avocado isn’t considered to be vulnerable. But some crops, such as those on commercial farms, can be a serious liability to the GWSS.
Because they’re carriers of Xylella fastidiosa. This bacteria is highly lethal to some plants and can cause leaf scorch. The bacteria are more dangerous than the damage from their feeding itself.
It can wipe out entire harvests for crop growers.
When the infestation reaches more than 10 leafhoppers per leaf, they can defoliate plants. This means no production, which means destroyed crop harvests for the season.
Why is the glassy-winged sharpshooter a threat?
They’re more of a threat to farmers who have large plots of land for commercial growing. They can destroy large areas of land quickly.
Especially when their numbers peak in the summertime. This makes them a serious threat to those with large plots of land. Destroyed crops are lost profits.
In addition to that, the GWSS also is a vector for Xylella, which is often fatal to plants.
Both of these reasons make the GWSS an incredibly dangerous species. In crops like grapes or another citrus, they’re more than a nuisance. They can defoliate plants entirely.
How to get rid of sharpshooter bugs naturally
Getting rid of the glassy-winged sharpshooter is no easy task, but with some patience, you can eliminate them using the following remedies.
While you won’t get rid of them completely, you can still bring their population numbers down to a level where damage to your plants is minimal so you can still enjoy your garden.
If you have questions, post them in the comments form at the end of this page.
Use sticky adhesives
Sticky traps can be used to catch them passively.
They serve dual purposes in that they help eliminate some of the population, but more importantly, they let you know how your pest control plan is working.
Over time, expect to see fewer GWS getting caught. If you see more, it could mean that you need to change your plan or it could be peak bug activity.
These sticky traps can be purchased at your local home improvement store.
Put them out in the summer until the fall. Use them to see how frequent the GWS are coming to your garden.
Plant decoy plants
The glassy sharpshooter has preferences for plants.
You can plant cheaper, foliage-dense plants on the perimeter of your garden to help bait the pests to infest those instead of your prized vegetation.
These should be plants with dense foliage that’ll draw the bugs towards them.
Get cheap plants like sunflowers, nasturtiums, zinnias, or okra. These can be checked for GSW nymphs regularly so you know if they’re peaking in activity.
While decoy plants may not eliminate the pests, they help reduce the damage to your main plants.
However, it can backfire. If they come in for the decoy plants, there’s plenty of foliage for them to eat, so you could be helping their population thrive.
The infected leaves should be pruned, then dipped in soapy water to kill the eggs/nymphs.
Monitor for damage
It’s important to keep tabs on the GWS in your garden. Every time you go out to prune, harvest, or do other yard work, be sure to check on the damage they’re doing.
This will let you know some key info:
- Where the GWS are feeding
- Host plants that they’re eating
- Whether or not they’re moving in
- Where they’re hiding
- If the insect control plan you’re doing is working
Even though the glassy sharpshooter is large, it’s hard to see in the wild. It blends in well with its surroundings using its brown, darkened colors.
The bug is not obvious unless disturbed. It commonly hides in twigs, leaves, or branches where it detects movement.
When looking for glassy-winged sharpshooters, look for the tips of new shoots. They’re hiding within 1 foot from the new leaf shoots. They feed on this area.
You may also find small droplets of mist or powdery coating on the canopy of your plants. Constant droplets signify that sharpshooter pests are present.
Inspect/quarantine new plants
Newly purchased plants should be quarantined.
If buying plants from a nursery, they should have their inspection programs, especially if it’s an infested area.
Even then, you should do your own quarantine/inspection before adding them to your garden.
Use natural predators
While the glassy winged sharpshooter has a large size, there are still plenty of other pests that’ll gladly eat them.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to lure some of the insects into your garden to help control the GWS population passively.
Some natural predators that eat glassy winged sharpshooters include:
- Assassin bugs
- Praying mantis
- Parasitic wasps (Cosmocomoidea)
Do some reading on what lives in your area. Then find out what kind of environments they prefer to get more of them into your garden.
For example, you can bring in more birds by setting up birdhouses, birdbaths, or even birdfeeders. Birds will then come to your yard daily for feeding.
If they’re predatory, they’ll hunt down the GWS in the garden.
Neem oil isn’t useful for preventing or killing GWSS. Neem oil is naturally derived from neem leaves, which is often used as a DIY spray to keep sap-sucking pests off plants.
The oil is sprayed onto vulnerable foliage and then dried. It forms a layer of residue on the leaf that keeps pests from feeding on it.
While it may work for other bugs like persea mites or leaf footed bugs, it hasn’t been shown to do anything in repelling GWSS. Therefore, you should stick to proven techniques for glassy sharpshooters outlined prior.
Insecticides for glassy sharpshooters
Under a well-established plan of biological control, insecticides aren’t usually necessary.
Urban landscapes rarely have large numbers of glassy sharpshooters, so you can eliminate them with this kind of remedy.
There is also a low prevalence of the disease vectors in these neighborhoods.
Xylella is rare in the urban garden. But some zones have high sharpshooter populations because of plant selection. They love citrus plants especially.
So this can lead to higher numbers, which can become a nuisance pest. In this case, using an insecticide may be necessary.
For entire plant protection
If you choose to use insecticides to get rid of the glassy sharpshooters, note that it’s important to read the ingredients. Check the label.
Look for something called imidacloprid. It’s proven to be effective against glassy-winged sharpshooters.
There are a few products that are well known for their effectiveness to eradicate these bugs.
Here’s one of the touted ones (links to Amazon):
- Bayer BioAdvanced 12 Month Tree and Shrub and Bayer Advanced Fruit Citrus and Vegetable Insect Control
Be sure to read the label and use it as directed. Note that this may not work for your specific plants or pest situation. It’s your responsibly to ensure it works for you.
Applications will vary in dosage depending on the size of the shrub, dilution levels, and how it’s applied. Most insecurities aren’t sprays, but rather liquid. They’re poured around the base of the infested plant where it seeps into the soil.
The plant then soaks it up and moves it up the stem. Your plants will be protected within a few weeks because of the ingredient.
It also helps keep other pests off like scales, whiteflies, or even aphids in addition to the glassy winged sharpshooter.
For instant kill
If you can spot high concentrations of the pest, it may be possible to use insecticidal soaps to kill the nymphs.
This is usually in parts of the foliage where you see a lot of the white excrement being produced, which can damage nearby cars, surfaces, or other paint finishes.
Here’s a video of the “rain” effect of their excrement coming down:
Insecticidal soaps can help remedy this problem. Insecticidal soaps or oils can penetrate the nymphs and kill them upon contact.
They don’t work on adults with thicker exoskeletons, but the soft nymphs will be wiped out by it. Note that using insecticidal soaps or oils can be harmful to beneficial insects, such as pollinators or wasps. Use as directed.
Some popular products that work well against sharpshooters include (links to Amazon):
- Bio Advanced Insect, Disease and Mite Control
- Ortho Insect, Mite and Disease 3-in-1
- Sevin Insect Killer
Read the label. Use as directed. Note that these insecticides may NOT work for your plants or pest situation. It’s your duty to see if they’re right for your specific scenario.
When used properly, it can help control the glassy winged sharpshooters from damaging your plant further. By destroying the GWSS nymphs, they can’t evolve into adults. This stops their lifecycle on the spot.
Contact your local office
It’s important to report the presence of glassy winged sharpshooters to your local coop or extension office.
They’ll document the incident and also have suggestions for you.
Depending on your location, the GWSS can be considered a serious threat to the local landscape. The Dept. of Food and Agricultural (here’s the one for California) or your local agriculture office are good places to call.
You may find these resources handy:
- Homalodisca vitripennis – IFAS
- Homalodisca vitripennis (glassy winged sharpshooter) – CABI
- Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter – IIG
Did you get rid of the sharpshooters in your garden?
Glassy winged sharpshooters do pose a threat to your yard, but most of the time they can be managed without too much issue.
If you’re in an urban or suburban zone, the damage from GWS shouldn’t be too extensive. They’re more of a threat to industrial farms or commercial properties.
With some basic measures (quarantine new plants, regular pruning, inspection), you can spot the sharpshooters before they can eat your host plants.
Follow up by deciding on an appropriate plan of action (insecticides or repellents) to help get rid of the GWSS. Then, use monitoring (sticky traps) to see how your plan is working.
Supplement with additional remedies (decoy planting, pruning, using predators of the GWS, removal of eggs) to help maximize the treatment plan.
Being patient, but persistent, is key to eliminating the pest.
Do you have any questions about glassy-winged sharpshooters? Post them in the form below.
If you found this guide helpful, please let me know as well. Consider telling your neighbors- it’s the most you can do!
Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.
I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).
Fight nature with nature.