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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?

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?