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Have you ever encountered a sharpshooter?

really-clear-sharpshooterI'm talking about the group of plant-feeding leafhoppers that have oddly-shaped heads.

eally-close-sharpshooter-undersideYou can tell it is a sharpshooter by the prominent eyes and enlarged, swollen area of the head capsule known as the clypeus. It is yellow with faint stripes in this insect.

sharpshooter-croppedThat swollen area is full of muscles that help the sharpshooter pump fluids from the plant. You could compare it to the bulb of a turkey baster.

The sharpshooter uses its big eyes, too. When something approaches a sharpshooter, it quickly scoots to the other side of the twig or branch. If the potential predator comes even closer, it will leap away with its jumping hind legs.

This is probably a male smoke tree sharpshooter (Homalodisca lacerta) because it lacks the white, waxy patches on the sides of its wings that are found on females (image at BugGuide).

Life cycle:

leafhopper-eggsFemale sharpshooters lay their eggs in rows, generally on the undersides of leaves.

sharpshooter-nymph-goodThe eggs hatch into youngsters called nymphs. They don't have the bright coloration of the adults, although they do still have a protruding head and noticeable eyes. The nymphs undergo several molts and then become adults.

sharpshooter-nymph-psdYou can often see adults and nymphs feeding together on the same stem.

Unlike some insects, smoke tree sharpshooters are polyphagus, which means they will feed on a number of different plants. The sharpshooter in the top photos is feeding on hollyhock. The single nymph is on Texas yellow bells.

Do sharpshooters occur where you live? Have you ever seen one? What do they feed on where you live?

I found an odd-looking creature this week.

Can you see the bulging eyes?

Even the nymphs, like the one in the photograph below, have them.

Most insects that have large eyes are predators, like praying mantids and dragonflies.

These sharpshooters feed on plants. They use their large eyes to avoid being eaten. When something approaches the insects, they quickly scoot to the other side of the twig or branch. If the potential predator comes even closer, they leap away.

Big eyes can come in handy for prey as well as predators.

Our insect today is small (about 1/8 inch) and active, so you might not spot it easily.

It is a leafhopper in the family Cicadellidae, of the Order Hemiptera. Some of its insect relatives include cicadas and aphids.

As you might guess, it is called a leafhopper because it has enlarged hind legs for jumping, although some are more likely to scuttle to the other side of the leaf or stem than to jump. The adults also have wings and can fly.

Leafhoppers come in a rainbow of colors.

In this photograph by Benimoto at Wikimedia, you can see characteristic pyramid-like head, and the triangle in the middle of its back. Can you see the spines on the hind leg? Two rows of spines is a characteristic of leafhoppers.

What a big eye! This type of leafhopper is commonly called a sharpshooter. If it spots something approaching, it quickly scoots to the other side of the stem.

Where do leafhoppers come from? Leafhoppers go through incomplete metamorphosis.

The adult leafhoppers lay eggs on plants. This is a cluster of sharpshooter egg cases on a leaf.

Looks like these have hatched.

The young leafhoppers are called nymphs. They lack wings, but the older ones have wing buds.

Often you will see the nymphs and adults together on a plant.

Leafhoppers use their sucking mouthparts to suck juices from plants.

In this video you can see leafhoppers feeding and eliminating wastes, in the form of excess fluids, at the same time.

As I mentioned above, leafhoppers are related to cicadas. Not that long ago scientists discovered that male leafhoppers have similar structures, called tymbals, that cicadas use to sing. After further tests, it turns out male leafhoppers sing to attract the females, too, but the sound is too high a frequency for us to hear.

Tiny singing leafhoppers? Now that is cool!