Glassy Winged Sharpshooters: Understanding Their Impact and Control Measures

Introduction: An Overview of the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter

The Glassy Winged Sharpshooter (GWSS), scientifically known as Homalodisca vitripennis, is an insect that’s part of the leafhopper family. This small creature, often unnoticed by gardeners, can have a substantial impact on plants and agricultural crops. The following sections delve into the biology, behavior, damage, and control methods concerning the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter.

Biology of the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter

Understanding the GWSS’s biology is the first step in recognizing its impact on plant life.


The GWSS is a large leafhopper, usually measuring around half an inch in length. The wings are transparent with reddish-brown veins, giving it its “glassy winged” name. The body tends to be brownish in color, and the eyes are often a striking shade of red or yellow.

Life Cycle

The GWSS undergoes an incomplete metamorphosis, transitioning through three stages: egg, nymph, and adult. Females lay eggs under the epidermis of host plants, from which nymphs emerge and molt several times before reaching adulthood.

Host Plants

These insects are highly polyphagous, meaning they can feed on a wide variety of plant species. They are found on over 100 different types of plants, including citrus, grape, and various ornamentals.

Behavior and Feeding Habits

The behavior and feeding habits of the GWSS directly influence the way they impact plants.

Feeding Mechanism

GWSS feed by extracting sap from the xylem tissue of plants using their specialized mouthparts. They consume large quantities of plant fluid, and in the process, excrete a substance known as “leafhopper rain.”

Migratory Patterns

Glassy Winged Sharpshooters are known to migrate within regions, depending on the availability of host plants and seasonal changes. This movement can contribute to the spread of diseases.

Damage Caused by the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter

The presence of GWSS in gardens or agricultural areas can lead to several types of damage.

Direct Damage

The feeding action of the GWSS can cause direct harm to the plants. The removal of large quantities of sap weakens the plants, and the excretion can lead to mold growth and other secondary infections.

Vector for Disease

More significantly, the GWSS is a vector for various plant diseases, most notably Pierce’s disease in grapes. The bacteria Xylella fastidiosa is transmitted by the sharpshooter as it feeds, leading to severe damage and often death of the infected plants.

Economic Impact

In agricultural regions, the GWSS can have severe economic consequences. Particularly in vineyards, where Pierce’s disease can devastate grape crops, the presence of this insect poses a significant threat.

Control Measures for the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter

Controlling the GWSS requires an integrated approach, employing various methods to minimize its impact.

Monitoring and Detection

Regular monitoring of susceptible plants helps in early detection. Yellow sticky traps can be useful tools for capturing and identifying the sharpshooters.

Biological Control

There are several natural predators and parasites that can control GWSS populations. Introducing or encouraging these organisms can be an effective strategy.

Chemical Control

In severe infestations, chemical insecticides might be necessary. However, it’s essential to use these products judiciously, considering their potential impact on other organisms and the environment.

Cultural Practices

Simple gardening practices, such as removing infected plants and maintaining proper irrigation, can reduce the attractiveness of the area to GWSS.

Quarantine and Regulatory Measures

In regions where GWSS poses a significant threat to agriculture, regulatory measures such as quarantines might be employed. These measures help prevent the spread of the insects to uninfested areas.

Considerations for Home Gardeners

Home gardeners dealing with the GWSS need to recognize the insect’s presence and understand its potential impact.


Learning to identify the GWSS, both in its adult form and through signs of damage, is crucial. This knowledge enables early intervention.

Integrated Management

Employing a combination of the control methods mentioned above, tailored to the specific situation, will often yield the best results.

Consultation with Experts

In cases where the infestation is severe or the situation is complex, consulting with local agricultural extension services or pest control professionals might be necessary.

Impact on Different Regions

The presence and impact of the GWSS vary depending on the region and the types of plants present.

North America

In the United States, particularly in California, the GWSS has become a significant concern for grape growers due to its role in spreading Pierce’s disease.

Other Regions

The GWSS has been reported in other parts of the world, including South America and the Middle East, affecting various types of crops and ornamental plants.

The Glassy Winged Sharpshooter and the Ecosystem

While the GWSS is often considered a pest, it is essential to understand its role in the ecosystem.

Food Source for Predators

The GWSS serves as a food source for various predators, including birds and other insects. This role in the food chain means that complete eradication might not always be desirable or even possible.

Part of the Natural Environment

The GWSS, like many insects, is a part of the natural environment. While control measures might be necessary to protect plants, understanding this insect’s place in the ecosystem helps guide a balanced approach.

Understanding the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter, its behavior, impact, and control measures, enables gardeners, farmers, and other stakeholders to address this insect’s challenges effectively. Integrating knowledge with responsible management practices ensures a healthy relationship between humans, plants, and this intriguing insect.