Cuerna Sharpshooter

2013 October 30

On November 11, 2012, Sam found this good-sized black-red-and-white leafhopper on a pile of shingles out back. It was about a third of an inch long.

This is a pretty distinctive little insect. The red wings with black veins, the black body with white speckles, and the white stripes down the sides pretty clearly mark it as a member of the genus Cuerna.

These are plant-juice feeders in the generally colorful subfamily Cicadellinae, also known as the “Sharpshooters”. See, like other plant-juice feeders they have to deal with the fact that most plant juices are mostly water. So once they extract whatever nutritional value is in the juice, they have to get rid of the extra water. And the sharpshooters do this by firing out little droplets of liquid at fairly high velocity, with a little popping sound. This both gets rid of the liquid, and startles potential predators long enough that the insect can use its other defense mechanism, and leap away.

I wanted to get pictures of the leaping legs, but it wouldn’t stay upside down for anything. Until Sam came up with the idea of taking a piece of Scotch tape, lightly touching it to its back so it barely stuck, and then flipping it over. This worked great, and it was stuck lightly enough that we were able to pop it off of the tape again afterwards with no harm done.

The mouthparts aren’t particularly long, and are more visible in this face shot than they were in the underside shot.

So, the reason we were finding this so late in the season is that these overwinter as adults, and they evidently don’t find a place to hibernate until the last minute. Which is probably why this one was sniffing around the shingles when Sam found it. Underneath a shingle is a great place to hibernate if you’re a bug. And then in the spring, they lay eggs on grass, and their offspring spend the summer sucking grass juice, shooting high-velocity water drops, and jumping. Not a bad life, overall.

One Response
  1. Sandy permalink
    October 30, 2013

    It has a great name – sounds like the member of a Mexican drug cartel.

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