Planthopper nymph

planthopper1It looked like a tiny pebble, there on a leaf of my loofa gourd seedling. But it had the conical eyes of a gecko, and a smidge of white fluff coming out its rear. How could I not stop everything to figure out what it was?

A prod from my finger chased it round and round the stem, where I hoped to see if it was equipped to hop or fly or both, but it gave me the evil eye, so I gave up rather than risk harassing it out of view. It ended up lounging on that stem for three days.

For once, online search terms failed me, and I had to post a photo to the facebook group Bugguide. Within moments, someone provided a direction: “leafhopper nymph.”

Turns out, my gecko-eyed, wax-butt insect is most likely a nymph of the Two-Striped Planthopper Acanalonia bivitta. It is polyphagous, which means it isn’t picky: it feeds on more than one plant family. I never saw it actually eating my seedling, and I do wonder if nymph menus differ from adult menus. I’ve seen the adults often, especially when they land on my arms. Adults are nothing like nymphs: they are sleek, green jobs, the better to mimic sleek green leaves. One rode my shoulder all the way into the house and up the stairs while I fetched my camera, then down the stairs and back out the door to the driveway, and had I been quicker to figure out how to focus one-handed on the teensy green leaf with legs, I would have a decent photo to share. But, after a dozen blurry bug selfies, it hopped away. Or flew. I couldn’t really see which, but it can do both, unlike the nymph, which has no wings. To see a photo, try this page from BugGuide. It shows both stages.

What’s with the wax, though? Why have strands of white wax tucked in your tushie? The fringe did nothing to camouflage my eyed pebble. True, photos of other specimens show longer filaments: more like twin exhaust pipes of cotton wool. Maybe more fluff makes the insects look less like insects and more like . . . fluff.
Could the wax be a protection against parasites? Or, has it a defensive function? Is it meant to give predators a mouthful of wax instead a mouthful of meat?

I didn’t mean to discover a new-to-me species in my driveway today, but this is what can happen when you look around. And as always, I’m left with more questions than answers.

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