Thursday, September 13, 2007

Candy-striped Leafhopper

Last Sunday, a group of nineteen warbler enthusiasts ventured into the rainy landscape of Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve on the field portion of the Fall Warbler Symposium. The birds were fantastic. We had nineteen species of warblers, including a Golden-winged Warbler which is always a treat.

But we saw other things, too. Including some interesting insects. Tiger beetles on the beach, some nice butterflies, and Ben Warner actually managed to capture a Black-legged Meadow Katydid that I heard singing. Most interesting of all, to me at least, was the following insect.

Nothing much going in this photo - just looks like a rather bad shot of Climbing False Buckwheat, Polygonum scandens, a common vine. Look closely on the top of the leaf, just below the vining stem.



It's a Candy-striped Leafhopper, Graphocephala coccinea. This is truly an outrageous creature, although one has to look close to get the full impact. About 20 of them could probably fit comfortably on a quarter. The pattern and brilliantly vivid colors almost defy the imagination. These aren't rare, either - watch leafhoppers closely and sooner or later you'll see one. They are also known as Red-banded Leafhoppers, a more sober and perhaps descriptively accurate moniker, but not as colorful.

This family of Hemipterans is enormous, perhaps 2,500 species or so just in the U.S. About 20,000 species have been described worldwide to date; twice as many species as birds. Leafhoppers are like tightly coiled Slinkies ready to be released. Spook one and they burst away in an incredible jump that must be equivalent to many, many times what the world's best humanoid jumper could do. Leafhoppers feed on plant sap by inserting their mouth parts into plant tissue, and some species can be serious pests. Some are thought to be major vectors for the spread of various plant pathogens. That's the downside and probably relatively few of them cause problems. Species like the Candy-striped Leafhopper add yet another interesting and underappreciated element to our biodiversity.

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1 comment:

Susan Gets Native said...

Jim,
I just stumbled onto your blog.
I was so excited to see one of these little guys near my hummingbird garden and it was so colorful and crazy looking I thought I had some rare insect! I was a little bummed I hadn't come across some endangered bug, but I was dazzled by the colors, nonetheless. We also have ones hanging around that look like blue stained-glass windows!