Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tropical Treehoppers

Our final day of banding at Refugio Curu was slower than usual, giving us an opportunity to leave the banding station between net checks to hunt for photography subjects.  Not far from the banding table, a small shrub, one of the species in the genus Piper, yielded several fantastically beautiful insects.  

While scanning the leaves and twigs of the Piper, something caught our eye that appeared, from a distance, to be a small black ant; upon closer inspection, however, we realized this ant was not an ant at all, but the thorax of an otherwise leaf-green treehopper called Cyphonia clavata.  

From either side, the extraordinary hood ornament of C. clavata appears to be a tiny ant, whose head would face opposite that of the hopper.  Many tropical insects masquerade as ants, because ants, with their cocktail of acids and chemicals, are generally distasteful.  It certainly fooled us at first, and would likely have fooled a would-be predator such as a bird.

Our second great find, which remained undetected until we finally recognized what it was that we were looking at, was an incredible-looking treehopper of the genus Cladonota.  The genus is restricted to the New-World Tropics, and contains some of the most ornate treehoppers in existence.  Each species is adorned with horns, bulbs, spikes, or other protuberances of varying shape and size. 

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