If Martha’s Vineyard Magazine’s Best of the Vineyard had a best-dressed category, this insect would be a shoe-in for the honor. 

A rainbow of striking color, the red-banded leafhopper is well adorned. Though small at less than half an inch long, bright and beautiful begin to describe this bug. One entomologist put it even more eloquently: “a spiffy little insect, easily overlooked but once seen, unforgettable.” 

She described my feelings well after observing this leafhopper on a plant in my outdoor shower. Though dripping wet and with hair full of suds, I dashed into the house to grab my phone to capture its exquisiteness for later identification. 

It wasn’t too hard to key out the species. Also called candy-striped leafhopper, these red, blue, yellow and green creatures can’t hide their true colors or blend into the background. Camouflage is simply not their way. Instead, they stand at the ready to hop away with their powerful legs. One of the better jumpers, some leafhoppers can launch themselves as far as 40 times their own body length. 

They halt their hurdling only to feed – this leafhopper pauses for plant juice. Using a well-adapted straw-like mouthpart, the red-banded leafhopper finds its favored foodstuff by piercing plants and sucks the sap from the leaves and stems. 

And it is a well-known law of digestion that what goes in, must come out. Leafhoppers do it with verve. 

After digestion, the liquid sap is converted to a honeydew of sorts to be excreted. Red-banded leafhoppers expel this material with vim and vigor. From their abdomen to their posterior, their waste literally bubbles out of their bum with a popping sound. Potent and sweet farts of fluid are ejected in a rat, tat, tat machine-gun fashion, leading to another alias, the sharpshooter bug. 

One entomologist (perhaps a 10-year-old boy in disguise) describes their derriere as a “fully-loaded butt cannon.” These excretions have a lot of appeal, since they are effectively sugar-laced bug pee, and wasps and flies will enthusiastically lap up this liquid. 

In the category of their preferred provisions are the foliage of fruit trees and shrubs (blackberries and blueberries particularly), roses, rhododendrons and other ornamental plants, causing many gardeners and landscapers to consider them pests. Consuming the plant’s essence can cause it damage, but leafhoppers are vectors for an even more destructive condition. 

Red-striped leafhoppers can transmit a bacterium that causes Pierce’s disease, a condition that will cause leaf scorch and infections in grapevines, oak trees and elms, among other species. Unfortunately for the afflicted, there is limited treatment for the condition and best practices require reduction of the insect vector. Look out leafhoppers. 

Disease transmission, fragrant flatulence and training for the long jump of insect Olympics – they’re all in a day’s work for this sharply-dressed and colorful squirt gun of an insect.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.