Jul 21 2012
Last weekend in Schenley Park I noticed white fuzz and a row of decorations on the stems of yellow jewelweed. When I stepped closer I learned they weren’t decorations at all. They were insects that resembled tiny moths.
I had a camera with me so I sent photos to my bug experts Chuck Tague and Monica Miller asking, “What are these insects and is the white fuzz related to them?”
Chuck and Monica agreed — these are flatid planthoppers — but they wouldn’t speculate on the species. Some flatids are so hard to identify they have to be dissected by an expert.
No matter the species, planthoppers have similar lifestyles:
- They often resemble parts of plants as a means of camouflage.
- They move very, very slowly so as not to attract attention but they hop like grasshoppers when disturbed. The group I photographed may have been moving but I never noticed. I wish I’d known they hopped. I might have tried disturbing them.
- Though planthoppers suck juice from plants they rarely reach the ‘pest’ level.
- Adult females secrete a waxy substance that protects the eggs and young from water and predation. This is part of what makes up the white fuzz.
- Their nymphs are ghostly white with fuzzy, wispy tails. They’re so small they look like fuzz without magnification.
The nymphs are kind of cute except their faces are spooky. Here’s a close-up from bugwood.org to show you what I mean.
So when you see fuzz on a plant it’s worth a second look. There might be something really interesting in it.
(photo of planthopper nymph by David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org. Photo of adults by Kate St. John)