Check out these mini-monsters of the rainforest!
If there was a competition for the World’s Weirdest Insect I think Treehoppers would definitely have a good shot of winning first place!
Treehoppers, due to their unusual appearance, have long interested naturalists….
Do you blame them? I heard about them thanks to National Geographic and I’m hooked, they are fascinating.
Many treehoppers flaunt outlandish outcroppings, such as helicopter-like orbs of Bocydium sp. (above). Others play it coy, mimicking thorns, leaves or even insect droppings; some even mimic ants or wasps.
The single shapes on the treehoppers insect anatomists explain are stems from the specially modified pronorum- a section of the thorax that in other insects resembles a small, child-like plate, but treehoppers are the creative kids in their class, with their promote arching into grotesque spires or gloves, veritable billboards of their individuality.
Typical treehoppers and thorn bugs are members of the family Membracidae, a group of insects related to the cicadas and the leafhoppers. About 3,200 species of treehoppers in over 400 genera are known. They are found on all continents except Antarctica; only five species are known from Europe. Individual treehoppers usually live for only a few months.
Like others of their kind, they’re equipped with mouth parts for piercing plant stems and slurping the juices inside- a bit like mosquitos, they have two interlocking needle like feeding tubes; one for siphoning fluids and the other for secreting saliva that prevents the juices from coagulating.
Because they’re often content to feast on one plants bounty their entire life, most treehoppers pose little threat to economically important crops (though they may spread at least one botanical disease). Partly for this reason, treehoppers haven’t been studied extensively as their close relatives.
This lack of scientific attention has left significant gaps in our knowledge of these fascinating bugs, including the purpose of their mystifying body modifications.
One guess is that they help to fend off predators with spines and barbs warning predators that they would be tough to swallow and also their bright colours advertising their toxins within; they also use mimicry (appearing to be something else) to defend themselves.
The strange globes crowning Bocydiums body resemble globe of Cordyceps, an insect-killing fungus common in rainforests.
Though the pronota are large, they’re also hollow and lightweight, allowing the insects to fly with surprising ease.
Their pronota are also wired with nerves and hair like structures known as setae that recieve unknown stimuli and may help the bugs sense their environment.
While it amazing to imagine what information treehoppers may glean with these receptors, their main mode of communication involves plant-borne vibrations. Unlike circardas communicating through rubbing body parts together, treehoppers shake and jerk their bodies to send signals through plants. The ability to communicate with each other enables them to protect their young unlike most insect mothers which desert their eggs soon after laying them.
When predators such as stinkbugs approach, the nearest nymph sounds an alarm by swinging its body and producing a vibrational chirp, siblings pick this up and join in which therefore amplifies the signal and results in the mother confronting the invader furiously buzzing her wings or punching with her club shaped legs.
Sometimes treehoppers even get help from ants and other insects that provide protection in exchange for honeydew!
Want to read more about the fascinating treehoppers?
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