The Brazilian treehopper is a fascinating insect. Known for its unique appearance, this tiny creature has captivated the attention of scientists and many treehuggers. In this article, we will explore some of the most interesting facts about them.
1. Brazilian Treehoppers Have Balls on their head
The Brazilian treehopper, a member of the Membracidae family, is a tiny and peculiar insect that can be found in numerous tropical rainforests. Measuring only 5 or 6 millimeters in length, this insect bears a striking resemblance to a pea-sized cicada.
Almost 3,300 treehopper members in this family have distinctive features, such as wings, false thorns, or leaf-like shapes, to ensure their survival. However, the Brazilian treehopper still steals the spotlight among its dozens of flashy relatives. The species has special multiple hairy balls on its heads. And those are not their big eyes.
Every treehopper possesses a pronotum, a plate-like feature present in several insects that generally covers their thorax. The pronotum’s size and shape differ based on the species, with numerous variants.
With the Brazilian, its pronotum is magnificently adorned with miniature balls and hairy bristles that spiral around its head, similar to the propellers of a helicopter. This “helmet” is present in both male and female individuals.
2. Their balls are for protection
So, why does the Brazilian treehopper have this remarkable globular helmet? The evolutionary purpose of the Brazilian treehopper’s distinctive globular helmet remains a mystery to scientists, but many believe it serves as a defense mechanism.
The pronotum’s unique design of this species is speculated to stimulate a parasitic fungus known as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.
This fungus infects ants and emerges from their bodies in a form that closely resembles the treehopper’s pronotum. By imitating this shape, the treehopper may be able to avoid being attacked. Because predators are unlikely to consume a fungus that could be harmful to them.
The Brazilian treehopper species live in tropical forests throughout almost every continent, including Asia, Australia, Africa, North and South America. They have a preference for residing in the uppermost boughs of leafy trees since this is where they can feed.
4. They feed themselves and other insects
Similar to mosquitos, treehoppers are sap-sucking insects. To extract sap from plants and trees, they use their mouthpart with two pointed straw-shaped tubes. One tube is used to pierce a plant’s stem or leaf to inject saliva and the other is used to suck out the sap. Their nymph eats the underside of the leaves.
Brazilian treehoppers are usually found under the leaves of glory bush. And while eating, these species also feed other insects.
The saliva of treehoppers is very special, it can prevent the plant from closing the piercing site. Due to this ability, the insects can eat the same plant multiple times. After finding a suitable plant, they typically remain on that plant for multiple weeks to consume it. During feeding, the treehoppers emit a sugary fluid known as honeydew.
This substance is consumed by ants and other insects. In exchange, these species will defend treehoppers from predators to protect their food source.
5. They Communicate Through plants
Unlike other species, treehoppers don’t communicate through the air. They create vibrations through plants to let each other know about prime feeding locations, woo partners, and warm about predators.
6. They are good mothers
Female Brazilian treehoppers, as well as other treehopper species, exhibit a fierce sense of protection over their offspring. They deposit their eggs into the cambium, the live tissue found in the stems of their food source. They then perch on the eggs to protect them from predators. Additionally, she makes small holes in the plant stem to facilitate the nymphs’ access to nourishment once they hatch.