The mini-monsters of the rainforest; Tree hoppers (Membracidae).

Check out these mini-monsters of the rainforest!

Tree hoppers.

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?

Check out the links below:

Absurd Creature of the Week: This Is an Actual Insect. This Is Not a Joke

https://www.britannica.com/animal/treehopper

http://treehoppers.insectmuseum.org/public/site/treehoppers/home

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/treehoppers-bizarre-wondrous-helmets-use-wing-genes-grow-180973713/

The little butterflies that look like mirrors; The Glasswing Butterfly (espejitos). 🦋🦋🦋🦋

Greta oto is a species of brush-footed butterfly and member of the subfamily Danainae, tribe Ithomiini, and subtribe Godyridina, known as the glasswing butterfly for its unique transparent wings that allow it to camouflage without extensive coloration.

The part of their wings that seem transparent actually have no coloured scales on them!

Isn’t it simply beautiful! 😍😍😍😍

The glasswing butterfly is mainly found in Central and northern regions of South America with sightings as far north as Texas and as far south as Chile. This butterfly thrives in the tropical conditions of the rainforests in the Central and South American countries.

Distribution map of the glasswing butterfly.

While its wings appear delicate, the butterfly is able to carry up to 40 times its own weight- so they aren’t as delicate as they seem!

In addition to its unique and fascinating wing physiology, the butterfly is known for behaviors such as long migrations and lekking.

The glasswing butterfly is migratory and travels up to 12 miles (19 km) per day at speeds of up to 8 miles per hour (13 km/h). It migrates in order to change elevations, and this migration causes there to be population density differences in varying geographical areas.

The glasswing butterfly is is one of the most abundant butterflies in its region and is spotted more often than some of its relatives in Central America. It can be found all year long, but month to month a population can fluctuate. 

They lay their eggs typically laid on plants of the genus Cestrum, a member of the nightshade family of plants, which serves as a food source for later life stages.

Below are some examples of plants from the genus Cestrum.

Yellow cestrum- cestrum auratiacum.
Cestrum fasciculatum.
Night-blooming jasmine- Cestrum nocturnum.

The caterpillars of the glasswing butterfly have green bodies with bright purple and red stripes.  The larvae are cylindrical in shape with dorsal projections that are smooth with filaments. These properties make the larvae extremely reflective, which essentially causes them to be invisible to predators.

The pupae are silver in colour and during the fifth instar stage (see butterfly reproductive cycle below), the pupa produces a silk pad on the lower surface of leaves through four spinning movements, onto which it attaches.

The silk fibers are important in providing greater flexibility to the pupa attachment. The cremaster, a hooked bristle-like structure on the pupa, attaches to this silk pad by a series of lateral movements of the pupa’s posterior abdomen.

The silk pads are essential for the pupas, attachment failure occurs when the silk pad breaks.

Researchers have found that the pupa attachment to have high tensile strength and toughness, which actually prevents the pupa from being pulled by predators or breaking off in the wind, allowing them to safely swing and move whilst attached safely to the host plant.

Lantana flower nectar is a food source for adult glasswing butterflies.

Birds are the most common predators of this butterfly. The glasswing combats predators by consuming toxins through plants of genus Cestrum and family Asteraceae in both the caterpillar and butterfly stages. Toxin consumption gives the butterfly a foul taste that discourages predation. It also utilizes its transparency to hide from predators by camouflaging into the background during flight. Transparency is a rare trait among Lepidoptera, since they more commonly use mimicry to ward off predators

Also…

To find a mate, males congregate in shady corners of a forest and give off these pheromones to “call” females. The long hairs that males have tucked away help magnify how stinky they are, sort of the way hair makes an armpit smell stronger. Females smell the males and join the congregation to find a mate.

In order to attract females, male butterflies form leks, or large gatherings where males compete for mates. They gather in shaded areas of the rainforest and competitively display themselves in order to attract mates. Male glasswing butterflies release pheromones during lekking in order to attract females.

The pheromones produced are derived from pyrrolizidine alkaloids that the butterflies obtain through their diet of plants of the family Asteraceae. The alkaloids are then converted to pheromones through the formation of a pyrrole ring, followed by ester cleavage and oxidation. 

pyrrolizidine alkaloids

The following national parks of Costa Rica currently feature the glasswing butterfly and are working on their conservation:

Guanacaste National Park,

Rincón de la Vieja National Park, 

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, 

Palo Verde National Park, 

Carara National Park, 

Poás Volcano National Park, 

La Selva Reserve and Biological Station,

Juan Castro Blanco National Park, 

Irazú Volcano National Park, 

Chirripó National Park, and

La Amistad International Park.

Get to know your swans. 🐤🐤

Swans are a bird you will always see, so when I saw a ‘get to know your swans’ page in my countryfile magazine a while ago I had to share a version of it, plus I think it’s super helpful for the majority of people.

Below is a guide of the 3 main swans you’re likely to see.

1. Mute swan (Cygnus olor)- at 1.5cm in length, this is our largest native wildfowling. The adult possesses all-white plumage with huge black feet and a black knobbly beak marked by an extensive orange tip. It is among our favourite british birds and for this reason it thrives almost everywhere, from the Outer Hebrides to inner London and occupies any open water habitat including coastal harbours. Despite the birds popularity and partly because of its confiding manner, some swans fall victim to vandalism. Up to half of all nests in one study area failed, even before hatching, because of human persecution. Surviving cygnets can remain with parents for almost a year.

2. Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)- a breeding bird of northern bog and taiga landscapes in Iceland and eastwards across Eurasia from Norway to Japan or China. It winters in central Europe and as far south as Greece, Turkey and Iran. Odd pairs occassionally breed in northernmost Scotland. It’s as large as the mute swan but with yellow instead of orange markings on its black beak; it also holds its neck straight, not in the mute swan’s s-shaped curve. Another key feature is its remarkable voice. The name is onomatopoeic and conveys something of a far carrying trumpet note, which pairs deploy in mutual singing displays. The whopper stays in Britain from October to March but its wintering patterns are disrupted by climate chaos.

3. Bewick’s swan (Cygnus columbianus)- smaller (at around 1.3m) and more compact than either the mute or whooper swan, with a much shorter neck. The yellow patch on its black beak is also confined to the base of the bill. The name honours the 18th century English natural history writer Thomas Bewick. The species was once a regular visitor as far south as the Severn Estuary where Peter Scott established a Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Slimbridge, partly to protect and study this Russian migrant. Climate change has meant Bewicks swans now seldom leave continental Europe and the British population has declined as a result.

Happy swan spotting. 🐤🐤🐤

9 ferns to spot. 🍃🌿☘

Here is a quick guide to the top 9 ferns you are likely to spot whilst on your next nature walk.

Personally I love ferns but there are so many and they do look alike which makes them super hard to identify so when I saw this guide in one of my countryfile magazines I had to share it…firstly though to better aid you and help you to identify ferns look at the diagrams below.

1. Maidenhair Spleen wort; growing in mortared crevices on shady walls, even in urban areas, this lime-lover has dainty fronds and lack stems with upto 40 opposite pairs of leaflets.

2. Harts tongue; the only british fern with undivided fronds has glossy, tapering, evergreen leaves. Look for spore cases arranged in parallel rows of slits on the underside.

3. Hard fern; each plant has two leaf types, outer, comb shaped fronds are evergreen and inner reproductive fronds have narrow lobes and die in winter. You will find it on heaths, moors and conifer woods.

4. Male fern: common in woodlands this fern has upto 30 main lobes, with the longest in the middle of the frond, divided into toothed smaller lobes. Spore cases have a kidney-shaped cover.

5. Polypody; evergreen flat fronds have clusters of golden spore cases under the lobes. Its creeping stems thread through dry-stone walls, rocky hedge banks and under mosses.

6. Parsley fern; Fronds have wedge-shaped leaflets, resembling parsley, growing in bunches from tips of creeping stems. You will find this on rocky screes, mountains and walls in Wales and lakes.

7. Lady fern; its graceful, feathery fronds droop at the tip, with lobes divided into smaller toothed lobes. Its lower stalk is grooved and clothed in brown scales. It is found in damp, shady woods.

8. Royal fern; a declining species of fern found in wet places, it has fronds upto six feet long, some with brown spore cases at their tip. Stems have up to nine branches, bearing oblong leaflets.

9. Bracken; a tall woodland species, invading moors and low-grade agricultural land. Unfurling new fronds, rising from an underground stem, are initially clothed in soft brown hairs.

Happy fern spotting. ☘🌿🍃

Exciting news from Wales: four new sites discovered for the Narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth.

One of Wale’s rarest moths has been seen in the Brecon Beacons National Park for the first time in 100 years!

Narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth (Hemaris tityus).

The Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth was previously found on 12 sites across Wales but 4 new sites have been now discovered including Cwm Cadlan National Nature Reserve in the Brecon Beacons.

The moth has also been seen at two new locations in Carmarthenshire, Pembrey Forest and close to Pontyberem.