Large Adult Treehopper

2011 March 19

Here’s a decent-sized hopping insect that we caught while sweep-netting in the tall grass on July 31, 2010.

It’s sort of a mimic, but this time, instead of mimicking another (more dangerous) insect, it is mimicking a plant part: a thorn.

It was about the size of a large Blackberry thorn or Rose thorn, although not as pointy. The camouflage could also blend in well with flaky bark or similar surface structures on plants, and so overall it would be pretty hard to spot.

Here it is lying on its side, next to Sam’s fingertip for scale:

This looks like a Treehopper, family Membracidae. I might even go so far as to say it looks like one of the ones in the genus Telamona, which have the right general shape. Some of the membracids are even better thorn mimics than this one, but they mostly tend to opt for a more general, kind-of-thornlike-but-could-blend-with-other-things-too kind of camouflage.

Treehoppers are fairly closely related to the much larger cicadas, with a generally similar face and eye arrangement:

They have pretty significant leaping capabilities, and so if their camouflage fails them they can generally jump to safety, at least as adults. The nymphs are a lot different, they tend to be more stationary, sucking plant juices and, in many cases, secreting honeydew to attract ants for protection. They are generally not particularly gregarious (although they can be pretty numerous if conditions are right), and so most species don’t do any significant damage to the plants that they suck juices out of.

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