The world can be a very big and scary place for people. Imagine if insects were able to defy physics and be as large as us! I don't think mankind would exist today and if we did, we would not be at the top of the food chain.
Some insects appear to be out of a horror story where others from a fairytale. Some of these amazing insects are known as hoppers.
The species I have encountered so far in Southern California and Alaska are not as eccentric as others found around the world but they're no less fascinating.
Like other insects, they have several instars (stages in between moults). When they've outgrown their exoskeleton, they need to moult (shed). They eclose (emerge) from the exuvia (shed exoskeleton), looking different and larger than before. Some before and afters can be extreme.
The bad part of these diverse, little creatures is many are vectors of disease. Since they feed on plants, they can spread disease from plant to plant. If not spreading disease, they can damage plants by laying eggs deep in the branches or feeding on the roots as nymphs.
The size of hoppers can make it very difficult to spot but many don't rely on size. Some mimic their surroundings as well. This Tamarix Leafhopper is colored and shaped like its host plant. It even stands on the plant in the same direction as the leaves.
Froghoppers (aka Spittlebugs) are known for their "spit" on plants. The nymphs produce this spit which provides shelter, temperature control, humidity, and deters predators.
It's amazing how much spit they produce for such a small insect. The one on the right had the spit removed for the photo but it quickly foamed right out of sight.
Leafhoppers can often times can be found with parasites on them. Some are so infested that it hinders their movement. The one below looks almost clown-like with the bulbous, red mites.
I'll admit that most people won't ever see these hoppers in person. This is because most don't take the time to really SEE nature. Yes they're very tiny but if you do any gardening, you may catch a glimpse under a leaf.
I am absolutely fascinated with the hoppers! I'm not talking about grasshoppers. I'm referring to the Hoppers of the Auchenorrhyncha suborder or Free-living Hemipterans. This includes the superfamilies Cicadoidea (Cicadas, Leafhoppers, Froghoppers and Treehoppers) and Fulgoroidea (Planthoppers).
Ok, that's enough taxonomy. Hoppers are very small organisms, usually 3-7 mm long and are found on plants around the world. They have an incredibly varied appearance. Some are sleek and streamlined. Some are horned and tank-like.
When some hoppers are immature, they have white, waxy filaments on the posterior abdominal segments. Every time I see them, I think of fiber optic lights on their butts :)
Another negative is the noise! While many have an inaudible sound to humans, others are very loud such as the Cicada. Some species emit a very loud "song". It is one of the loudest of all insects and can "sing" as loud as 120 dB.
Cicada's are also amazing for their longevity. Some can live as long as 17 years underground. Suddenly they emerge in massive numbers where they live only 4-6 weeks above ground. Yes, this can be creepy but you can't deny it's awesome!
I was fortunate to spot and document the first Versute Sharpshooter west of Texas. It was in my own backyard! Many species are transported on nursery plants. It's possible this one appeared from a plant introduced nearby.
This species doesn't appear to be interested in blending in but may hide better when the red flowers are in bloom.
They, like many other hoppers look very different when they're an adult as seen on the left.
The diversity within a family is surprising. Just look at the Torpedo Bug Planthopper, Upright-winged Planthopper and the Cixiid Planthopper.
I spend hours looking under leaves, on branches and blades of grass for these critters and hope to find many more species!
They're thriving on your plants, like it or not. So take a good look outside for the little bugs and be thankful that they're tiny!
I have created a mission that compiles spottings of hoppers from around the world by citizen scientists. Please visit The Hoppers mission to see some of the most bizarre insects you will ever see!