A trusty camera, a few hours spent combing the undergrowth and voilà ... nature-lover Peter Webb gives us a glimpse into the wonderful world of the leafhopper. 

Meet the leafhoppers! Small insects ranging from a couple of millimetres in length to just over a centimetre, these members of the Cicidellidae family have extremely large eyes (relatively speaking!) and a pair of wings that folds neatly over the abdomen (the wings come in all sorts of colours, from brilliant reds and blues to duller shades of brown). 

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And now that you know what they look like, spotting one is easy – all you need is some time to search around in the shrubs and trees. Once you've found your target, try touching it gently (don't worry, leafhoppers are harmless and don't bite!) ... and then watch how quickly it disappears. Thanks to strong hind legs, they're perfectly adapted for leaping (hence the name!) out of harm’s way in the blink of eye. 

Worldwide there are approximately 20 000 known leafhopper species. In my corner of the world (South Africa), only about 600 have been identified (few researchers out there are dedicated to the cause of leafhopper identification so many more South African species are waiting to be discovered!).  

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They may look small and innocuous, but several leafhopper species are a big agricultural problem – and not just because of what they eat but also how they go about it! Leafhoppers get their nutrition by sucking on plant sap. First they impale the surface of a leaf or stem with their proboscis and then go to work sucking out the contents (they also lay their eggs just under the surface of the leaves). Wounds left behind by the leafhopper weaken the plant and make it susceptible to infection ... but that's not the full extent of the damage. Just like a miniature needle, a leafhopper's proboscis gets dirty with use ... and many destructive pathogens can get passed along as the insect slurps its way from plant to plant. Viruses and mycoplasmas (fungi) introduced in this way can be extremely destructive and cause dramatic drops in crop yield. 

All the hoppers you see here were photographed with my trusty Nikon D200 and a 105 macro lens (and because of the critters' small size, I put a 25mm Kenko automatic extension ring behind it). I also used my R1 flash heads to get the required light.