Today’s insect is a planthopper. Planthoppers are related to leafhoppers and spittle bugs.
You can tell this is a planthopper because of the position of the antennae, which are below the eyes. The antennae also are thick at the base and have hair-like structures pointing out, called aristae (singular, arista).
This little planthopper belongs to the family Cixiidae. Cixiid planthoppers have see-through wings with patches and veins in shades of brown.
The females lay eggs in the stems of plants and cover them with a waxy coating.
The immature forms of these insects drop to the ground and feed on the roots of plants, like their much larger and noisier relatives, the cicadas. Once in awhile I will see the nymphs, as they are called, in the roots of a plant I am re-potting. The nymphs often are decorated with patches of white wax like the eggs (Flickr photograph).
Surprisingly, there are quite a few different kinds of these, around 300 different species in the genus Cixius alone. Because they are small and secretive, they rarely receive much attention.
Have you seen a planthopper?
Did anyone figure out why the cricket was pale in color in last week’s post? The answer was that it had just shed its skin or molted. Newly molted insects are often pale in color until their exoskeleton hardens up.
This week’s insect is a bit mysterious as well.
When I worked for The University of Arizona, part of my job was answering questions about insects and plants. I was always getting the question, “What’s this white fuzz on my plants?”
The answer is that a tiny insect called a cixiid (family Cixiidae, pronounced roughly six-ee-iday) in the planthopper group has laid its eggs here. The female insect inserts her eggs and then covers them with a whitish waxy fuzz.
Invariably I would get puzzled looks because no one had ever seen one or even ever heard of these insects before. And why hadn’t they ever seen the immature insects that hatched out? Wouldn’t they be on the plant too? Some people probably thought I was making this up 🙂
The reason you don’t see the immatures is because they fall to the soil when they hatch from the eggs. The nymphs burrow into the soil where they feed on plant roots. Does this sound familiar? Their life cycle is similar to that of cicadas.
In fact the adult insects look a little like tiny cicadas, although they also might be mistaken for flies. After trying to get a photograph of one for a long time, yesterday I finally succeeded.
So, have you ever seen a cixiid?