Plants and Animals

Fitchiella robertsonii Robertson's flightless planthopper

Key Characteristics

This planthopper typically measures 3.0 to 5.0 mm in length and is easily recognized by its large, black margined process or "weevil-like snout" that occupies much of the face. The forewings are extremely shortened, barely covering the first three abdominal segments. The wings and body are light grayish to olive brown in color, with patches of blackish and brown forming a mottled pattern (Bess 2005). The legs are light tan, dark brown, and grey. The front and middle tibiae are expanded slightly.

Fitchiella robertsoni can only be confused with one other Fitchiella species, F. fitchii (Doering 1941). However, the latter species is either peach or a darker brown and larger, typically 6.0 to 8.0 mm in length. The nasal process is also shorter and less bulbous. Fitchiella fitchii is known from only a handful of sites in the central Great Plains, where it can be locally common (Doering 1941). All other Fitchiella species are black or blackish and occur in the American Southwest.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: E - Endangered (legally protected)
Global Rank: GNR - Not ranked
State Rank: S2? - Imperiled (inexact or uncertain)


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Fitchiella robertsonii is extremely rare and was historically known from a few scattered sites in the eastern United States (Bess 2005). In Indiana in the Hoosier National Forest the species is found in dry barrens on hilltops and upper slopes associated with tick trefoils (Desmodium spp.), bush clovers (Lespedeza spp.), goat’s rue (Tephrosia virginiana), and native grasses.

Little is known about the primary food plant(s) of Fitchiella robertsonii. Vegetation at the Indiana sites is typically between one to two meters tall and dominated by perennial grasses and forbs in the plant families Asteraceae and Fabaceae (Bess 2005). In Michigan this species has been documented in Newaygo and Oscoda Counties.  The Newaygo County record was recorded from the edge of a dry sand prairie habitat and the Oscoda County record was along a roadside with native warm season grasses and forbs in the Grayling Outwash Plains, an ecoregion which contains many remnant pine barrens and dry sand prairies.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Prescribed burning may be conducted to control shrub invasion but should be done on a rotational basis. The fire intensity and timing should be such that succession is set back but the potential host plants, native warm-season grasses are able to regenerate and thrive. Generally, insecticides and herbicides should not be applied, however, selective treatment of woody vegetation (e.g., basal stem or stump application) may be an option to control woody plants where prescribed burning is not feasible.

Active Period

Active from second week of August to fourth week of September

Adults appear in late summer (mid-August through September). They feed, mate and females likely lay eggs over a protracted period of several weeks to a few months or more. Many adults apparently overwinter and are observed again in the early spring, presumably feeding and continuing to reproduce. Therefore, the adult brood period can last up to nine months. In Indiana, overwintering adults tend to disappear by late June.

Survey Methods

Conduct sweep net surveys in appropriate habitat. Sweep net sampling should occur on warm to hot, humid days, either between 10:00 am and noon or 4:00 pm and dusk.

Sweep net

Survey Period: From second week of August to fourth week of September

Time of Day: Daytime
Humidity: Humid
Air Temperature: Warm
Wind: No Wind


Survey References

  • Borror, D.J. and R.E. White. 1970. A Field Guide to the Insects of North America and Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 404pp.
  • Martin, J.E.H. 1977. The Insects and Arachnids of Canada (Part 1): Collecting, preparing, and preserving insects, mites, and spiders. Publication 1643. Biosystematics Research Institute, Ottawa.

Technical References

  • Bess, J. A. 2005. Conservation Assessment for Fitch's Elephanthopper (Fitchiella robertsoni (Fitch)).  USDA Forest Service, Eastern Region, 43 pp.
  • NatureServe. 2020. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 2.0 NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available (Accessed: March 20, 2020).