Earlier in the year I spotted these unusual bumps on a goldenrod stem.

Are they insects or debris?

Looking closer, they are insects. They have legs and eyes.

Can you see the legs now? Don’t they look weird? (See more about the white tails below.)

These are planthopper nymphs in the genus Acanalonia.


Public domain photograph from Wikimedia

The adults look like leaf fragments, complete with veins. They spend their lives sucking the juices from plants, so planthoppers use camouflage to survive.

You might wonder about the fuzzy white “tails” on the nymphs. Those strands are made of wax. The nymphs of many different kinds of leafhoppers and planthoppers produce wax and scientists have debated why. The wax repels water (is hydrophobic), so it may protect the nymphs from rainfall. Or the wax may keep certain nymphs from drying out. Because it on the rear of the insects, it is possible the wax spreads out the sticky honeydew they excrete, which help keep the nymphs cleaner.  Finally, the wax may protect the nymphs from predators, either by disguising themselves (like a Halloween costume) or by creating a physical barrier that the predators can’t get through.

In this previous post, the adults of a related flatid planthopper also have a light waxy coating.

Have you ever seen a nymph with wax around it? What do you think they use it for?