Adult Keelbacked Treehopper on celery
(Approximately ¼ inch or 7 mm long)
When I found the Keelbacked Treehoppers, all but one were in the nymphal (immature) stage. As nymphs, these insects do not have wings (this is true for all insects—just look at caterpillars, grubs, and maggots), and are bound to the area in which they were deposited as eggs by their mother. The nymphs are often attended by ants, which feed on their sugary excreta and provide a level of defense against the treehopper's predators. Though it should be noted that this is not always the case, there were no ants in attendance around the treehoppers I found, so this isn't a reliable mode of identification.
When I found the treehoppers in our Edible Garden, they were feeding on one of the celery plants. They feed on the juices (phloem sap to be exact) inside the plant by inserting their tiny straw-like mouthparts and sucking up the liquid. Although many sources say that these insects cause little, if any, damage to the plants they are on, this is not always the case! When populations of these insects are high enough they can cause serious stunting and sometimes lead to the loss of plants. Many gardeners in our area complain of these pests on their tomatoes. It is not clear if the decline in plant health is due to excessive feeding by these insects or by secondary infections spread to the plant during feeding.
Immature Keelbacked Treehopper
photo courtesy of Vanessa Vobis
Cyphonia treehopper with ant-like pronotum
image from Nicolas Gompel/Nature