Beware Insect Mimics and Other Tricks of Nature

Crazy Looking Treehopper

Crazy Looking Treehopper.  From New Scientist Magazine.

Membracids or treehoppers are well-known (perhaps even loved?) for their helmets, which are often more outlandish than Phyllis Diller’s latest hairdo. The one you see here is a great example – and a case of insect mimicry, because of course, at first glance, it appears to be a rather wicked looking ant.

Crazy Looking Treehopper, with body segments indicated

Crazy Looking Treehopper, with body segments indicated

But, to a student of insect identification, you can see the flaws in its doppelganger. I see antenna and mandibles on the pseudo-head, but as we move to the pseudo-thorax, it doesn’t have a leg to stand on. There are some thorns on it that look nasty, but as you move to the pseudo-abdomen, you see that it’s missing a node. In the picture, I’ve indicated these sections in red.

Perhaps the biggest giveaway is the treehopper underneath the fake ant, but hey, it’s doing a good job of mimicry considering.

Not all pests are what they seem. Using the basics of identification, you can find your way around some insect mimicry and identify specimens that would perplex people who aren’t as skilled.