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Rapid spread of Balclutha rubrostriata (Hemiptera: Cicadellidae) in Texas and southwestern Louisiana, USA with notes on its associated host plants.

The leafhopper genus Balclutha contains 111 grass-feeding species and is near cosmopolitan in distribution. The red streaked leafhopper (RSLH), Balclutha rubrostriata (Melichar), is native to Sri Lanka and India, but has spread to Australia, Asian Islands, Southeast Asia, Japan, the eastern Mediterranean, and several African countries in the Old World. In the New World it has been found in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Central America, Hawaii, and recently in Texas, USA (Knight 1987; Andrew & Hughes 2005; Hanboonsong et al. 2006; Zahniser et al. 2010).

Balclutha rubrostriata is an ecological and economic threat in several ways. In Thailand, B. rubrosriata is known to attack sugarcane (Saccharum spp.; Cyperales: Poaceae), and in a survey conducted by Hanboonsong et al. (2006), over 30% of the individuals tested carried the phytoplasma (sugarcane white leaf phytoplasm 16SrXI) that causes sugarcane white leaf disease (SCWL). This prevalence was second highest of the vectors tested, suggesting that B. rubrostriata is a highly competent vector. This disease can cause total leaf chlorosis and tiller proliferation (Wongkaew et al. 1997), which can create up to 100% crop yield losses in some areas (Rishi & Chen 1989). Leafhoppers are known to transmit at least 7 other viruses to sugarcane including Fiji disease virus (FDV), sugarcane mosaic virus (SrMV), sugarcane steak virus (SCSMV), peanut clump virus (PCV), sugarcane yellow leaf virus (SCYLV), sugarcane bacilliform virus (SCBV), and sugarcane mild mosaic virus (SCMMV), all of which are economically important (Cronje 2003). While B. rubrostriata has not been identified as a vector of these latter viruses, it has also not been evaluated for competency, and there is no reason to believe that this exotic leafhopper species could not introduce and vector other viruses. Knight & Webb (1993) have found that the ability to transmit viruses has evolved on 3 separate occasions within the leafhopper tribe Macrostelini, and those that can transmit viruses are likely able to transmit different viruses. In fact, Nault & Ammar (1989) found that many of these viruses survive only within the vector by transovarial transmission, and the viruses may be of insect origin and then secondarily transferred to plant hosts. This suggests that the virus could be carried by its leafhopper host and transmitted to sugarcane several generations after a leafhopper is introduced to a new area. Besides potentially vectoring SCWL and other viruses, leafhoppers cause direct damage to sugarcane by sap removal (Long & Hensley 1972) and while this damage is not usually as extensive as is caused by some other pests, it still contributes to detrimental effects on the host plant. Adding additional pests, especially exotic pests that arrive without natural enemies can cause high population densities, and significant negative effects.

Zahniser et al. (2010) first recognized that B. rubrostriata occurred in Texas, USA. Balclutha rubrostriata was collected in Bexar County, Texas where it was found to be the dominant organism in surveys, making up nearly 85% of samples. They also found a single museum specimen from the Texas A&M Kingsville Invertebrate Museum that was collected in Kingsville, Kleberg County, Texas in 1991. Additionally, they discovered reports from Kerr County and Travis County, Texas of specimens collected in 2006 and 2008 respectively.

It was thought that SCWL would stay contained within Southeast Asia because of the specific insect vector system (Marcone 2002). However, the newly documented introductions show that this assumption may not be true, and that B. rubrostriata could introduce SCWL to the sugarproducing regions of the United States gulf coast. Our project goals were to determine whether B. rubrostriata was established in Texas and Louisiana and, if so, to document its range expansion toward sugarcane crops.


Insects were collected from grass fields, near highways by sweep netting. Sites for collections were along a transect from the sugar-producing regions of south Texas to those of southwestern Louisiana (Fig. 1). Species of grasses at these collection sites were recorded. In Willacy County, Texas and Rapides Parish, Louisiana, grasses within three feet of sugarcane crop were swept, along with additional collections on actual sugarcane, and these samples were maintained as separate collections. All collection site coordinates were recorded using a Garmin eTrex20 GPS along with a location name. Collection samples were stored in separate plastic containers and subsequently placed in freezers. Insects were later separated in to three vials: Miscellaneous Insects, RSLH, and other leafhoppers. Specimens were point-mounted or pinned, and deposited Sam Houston State University Invertebrate Collection (accession numbers SHSUE 006,106-SHSUE 006,572). No effort was made for equivalent sampling at each site, but where B. rubrostriata was found, total insects collected were counted to determine a percentage of the sample represented by that species (reported as prevalence). Morphological confirmation of the red streaked leafhopper followed taxonomic traits listed by Zahniser et al. (2010) and Webb & Vilbaste (1994).


The samples of all 16 Texas counties and two Louisiana parishes yielded over 2,200 invertebrates in which Balclutha rubrostriata averaged about 40.2% of each sample. Thus, in many of these samples it was the most abundant insect species associated with these grasses. While the RSLH accounts for 40.2% overall, when sampling on KR Bluestem (Bothriochloa ischaemum; Cyperales: Poaceae), B. rubrostriata was always present. Zahniser et al. (2010) confirmed the presence of B. rubrostriata in Bexar and Hays Counties in Texas. They also found, through internet sources, that B. rubrostriata had been observed in Kerr and Travis Counties in Texas. This survey adds 16 additional Texas counties, and 1 Louisiana parish to the distribution of B. rubrostriata. New Texas county records include: Willacy, Kenedy, Nueces, Refugio, Goliad, Victoria, Jackson, Wharton, Fort Bend, Harris, and Walker. Rapides Parish is a new state record for Louisiana. Figure 1 displays the physical locations of the 26 collection sites, and Table 1 lists the GPS coordinates of each site, the percentage of the sample represented by B. rubrostriata, and the type of grass(es) from which samples were collected. These results appear to demonstrate a positive correlation between King Ranch Bluestem over other grasses for RSLH. King Ranch Bluestem was prevalent in all counties, and it was found to be within 3 feet (91.5 cm) of sugarcane crops in Willacy County. One sample was taken from sugarcane. RSLH was not collected from sugarcane in Willacy County but was found in King Ranch bluestem less than 3 feet (91.5 cm) away.


Even though Hanboonsong et al. (2006) identified B. rubrostriata as an important vector of SCWL, little is known about this leafhopper species. In general, the genus Balclutha is documented to use grasses and sedges as host plants, but ecological and biological data are "infrequent" for this group (Blocker 1967), which is the case for B. rubrostiata. It has been found on sugarcane by Hanboonsong et al. (2006) in Thailand, on rice (Oryza sativa L.; Poales: Poaceae) in the Philippines (Knight 1987) and on King Ranch Bluestem in Texas (Zahniser et al. 2010), but other grass associations are unknown.

This study confirmed the presence of B. rubrostriata in 15 Texas counties and 1 Louisiana parish. The majority of the RSLH were collected from King Ranch Bluestem suggesting that this may be an attractive host plant for the leafhopper. King Ranch Bluestem is itself an invasive species and has expanded across the state of Texas possibly making it easier for B. rubrostriata to expand its distribution. We observed a gradient for which KR Bluestem has established along the Texas gulf coast regions, east Texas, and Southwestern Louisiana. That is, south Texas (and the associated Gulf Coast regions) appears to have the highest rate of KR Bluestem encroachment. However, this gradient diminishes eastward through the eastern regions of Texas and western Louisiana; and the red streaked leaf hopper mirrors this gradient (Fig. 1, Table 1), suggesting some relationship. Fig. 1 and Table 1 also suggest that as KR Bluestem establishes populations across the eastern regions of Texas and the southwestern parishes of Louisiana, where sugarcane crops are maintained, B. rubrostriata has the potential to spread with it.

Even though leafhoppers have been documented to disperse over great distances (Ghauri 1983), little is known about the mechanisms of this dispersal and establishment. It is interesting that the invasive B. rubrostriata appears to prefer another invasive species, B. ischaemum, as a host plant in Texas. However, we observed no deleterious effects on the invasive grass even when the leafhopper made up 85% of the insects collected from that grass. King Ranch Bluestem is native to the north Asian steppes and Mediterranean Europe (Harlan 1951; Correll & Johnson 1970) but it is unknown whether B. rubrostriata is associated with the grass in its native range. This invasive grass was intentionally introduced in Texas as a livestock grass. Through Texas A&M experiments, it was found that King Ranch Bluestem was ideal for these areas because it is a drought tolerant, nutritional and a palatable grass for livestock (Dwyer et al. 1964). By the 1950s, fields throughout the Edwards Plateau of Texas were intentionally planted with King Ranch Bluestem (Riskind & Diamond 1988) and it was also introduced into Oklahoma (White & Dewald 1996). If the association we observed is important for maintaining B. rubrostriata in the United States, the absence of this invasive grass may be a reason that the RSLH has not readily dispersed into Louisiana but is very well established in Texas.

In Thailand B. rubrostriata had the second highest prevalence of SCWL, making it potentially a serious threat to sugarcane in the United States. Sugarcane is not only an important food crop in the United States; it is also being considered a strong candidate for a biofuel plant. The overwhelming presence of B. rubrostriata in many of our samples suggests it has the ability to take over grassland communities (Crowl et al. 2008). Since B. rubrostriata is a vector for a deadly phytoplasma (Hanboonsong et al. 2006) of an economically important crop, B. rubrostriata is an imminent threat that needs to be managed before it has a chance to start transmitting the SCWL to Texas and Louisiana sugarcane crops. It is uncertain whether the SCWL virus is currently being carried by the leafhopper but, as suggested by Nault & Ammar (1989), leafhoppers can maintain the virus for numerous generations even without an association with sugarcane.

Caption: Fig. 1. Collection sites for survey of Balclutha rubrostriata. Large circles are survey sites where B. rubrostriata was collected. Black dots represent sample sites where samples were collected but B. rubrostriata was not found. A few sites appear to be a combination of the 2 but these represent independent samples on different grass types as reported in Table 1. Counties where sugarcane crops occur are shaded.


The authors thank David Hoffpauir for his expertise in GIS and mapping.


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Institute for the Study of Invasive Species, Texas Research Institute for Environmental Studies, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas 77341, USA

* Corresponding author; E-mail:


State       County/Parish   Coordinates

Texas       Fort Bend       N29.51468 W95.88710

Texas       Goliad          N28.47640 W97.33118
Texas       Goliad          N28.69752 W97.23778
Texas       Harris          N29.60671 W95.18835
Texas       Harris          N29.59479 W95.17507
Texas       Jackson         N28.96059 W96.068
Texas       Jasper          N30.85539 W94.17183
Texas       Kenedy          N26.73726 W97.76912
Texas       Kenedy          N26.73727 W97.76913
Texas       Kenedy          N27.22174 W97.78156
Texas       Newton          N30.99520 W93.73548
Texas       Nueces          N27.85401 W97.62993
Texas       Nueces          N27.83209 W97.64880
Texas       Nueces          N27.69515 W97.66837
Texas       Nueces          N27.68790 W97.50481
Texas       Nueces          N27.71153 W97.50188
Texas       Polk            N30.71204 W94.95106
Louisiana   Rapides *       N31.03723 W92.34353
Louisiana   Rapides         N31.08610 W92.57912
Louisiana   Rapides         N31.09822 W92.62677
Louisiana   Rapides         N31.06461 W93.51728
Texas       Refugio         N28.13858 W97.41550
Texas       Refugio         N28.13859 W97.41551
Texas       San Jacinto     N 30.54963 W95.13313
Texas       San Patricio    N28.11025 W97.33248
Texas       Tyler           N30.75299 W94.55467
Louisiana   Vernon          N30.88665 W92.97527
Texas       Victoria        N28.77738 W97.09771
Texas       Victoria        N28.81588 W96.92510
Texas       Walker          N30.69611 W95.44169
Texas       Wharton         N29.17435 W96.27995
Texas       Wharton         N29.37792 W96.08134
Texas       Willacy *       N26.45327 W97.71160
Texas       Willacy         N26.45212 W97.77171
Texas       Willacy         N26.45250 W97.78802
Texas       Willacy         N26.45250 W97.78802
Texas       Willacy         N26.46687 W97.79696
Texas       Willacy         N26.61512 W97.77155

State       County/Parish   Grass type sampled

Texas       Fort Bend       King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Goliad          King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Goliad          King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Harris          King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Harris          King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Jackson         King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Jasper          Other
Texas       Kenedy          Other
Texas       Kenedy          King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Kenedy          Other
Texas       Newton          Other
Texas       Nueces          King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Nueces          King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Nueces          King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Nueces          King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Nueces          Other
Texas       Polk            King Ranch Bluestem
Louisiana   Rapides *       Sugarcane
Louisiana   Rapides         Little Bluestem mix
Louisiana   Rapides         Other
Louisiana   Rapides         Other
Texas       Refugio         King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Refugio         Other
Texas       San Jacinto     King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       San Patricio    King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Tyler           Little Bluestem mix
Louisiana   Vernon          Other
Texas       Victoria        King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Victoria        King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Walker          King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Wharton         King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Wharton         King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Willacy *       King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Willacy         King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Willacy         King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Willacy         Other
Texas       Willacy         King Ranch Bluestem
Texas       Willacy         Sugarcane

State       County/Parish   On or near   Prevalence

Texas       Fort Bend       No                 64%

Texas       Goliad          No                 78%
Texas       Goliad          No                 71%
Texas       Harris          No                 87%
Texas       Harris          No                 68%
Texas       Jackson         No                 54%
Texas       Jasper          No                  0%
Texas       Kenedy          No                  0%
Texas       Kenedy          No                 60%
Texas       Kenedy          No                  0%
Texas       Newton          No                  0%
Texas       Nueces          No                 62%
Texas       Nueces          No                 79%
Texas       Nueces          No                 42%
Texas       Nueces          No                 60%
Texas       Nueces          No                  0%
Texas       Polk            No                 85%
Louisiana   Rapides *       Yes                 0%
Louisiana   Rapides         No                  1%
Louisiana   Rapides         No                  0%
Louisiana   Rapides         No                  0%
Texas       Refugio         No                 62%
Texas       Refugio         No                  0%
Texas       San Jacinto     No                 80%
Texas       San Patricio    No                 27%
Texas       Tyler           No                 69%
Louisiana   Vernon          No                  0%
Texas       Victoria        No                 73%
Texas       Victoria        No                 20%
Texas       Walker          No             ca. 37%
Texas       Wharton         No                 49%
Texas       Wharton         No                 50%
Texas       Willacy *       Yes                71%
Texas       Willacy         Yes                77%
Texas       Willacy         Yes                25%
Texas       Willacy         Yes                 0%
Texas       Willacy         Yes                74%
Texas       Willacy         Yes                 0%

* Counties containing sugarcane fields

([section]) King Ranch Bluestem (Bothriochloa ischaemum);
Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium (Michx.) Nash);
other (native grasses); Sugarcane (Saccharum sp.); Little
Bluestem mix (Little bluestem mixed with native grasses).

([infinity]) Other acceptable synonyms for King Ranch
bluestem: Yellow bluestem, KR bluestem


Please note: Some tables or figures were omitted from this article.
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Author:Morgan, Ashley R.; Smith-Herron, Autumn J.; Cook, Jerry L.
Publication:Florida Entomologist
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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