What appears to be a flower here is actually a group of caterpillars working their way down a sapling trunk.
They look like they could do a decent job sharpening a pencil, about the same width as this tree(?) trunk.
Despite the black background, this was taken a few hours before sunset. At the time there was probably a few feet of the trunk left. I marked the location and returned after dark. I found no trace of the trunk or the caterpillars. They apparently ate the whole tree.
I know there are defoliating caterpillars. I know there are wood boring caterpillars. I never imagined there are caterpillars that consume an entire tree though. That’s assuming they eat leaves, which I didn’t observe.
Here’s yet a different species of colorful treehopper. These too were found in association with ants.
I had planned to post just a single photo of this scene with ants tending treehoppers. Here we see at least two different colorful treehopper instars, with one actively molting. Ants like the one shown above tended to this small grouping of treehoppers. As I was choosing a photo to post, I noticed something strange about the treehoppers though. Do you see it too?
Look closely and you’ll see that a few nymphs have parasites. I wasn’t sure at first, so I started looking through my other photos. Sure enough, almost every one had one or more parasites. The parasites seem to prefer hiding under the wing pads and below the thorax.
Most of the parasites were small, but there were at least a few plump ones.
None of the photos provided a clear view of the parasites, but I suspect they are mites. In any case, apparently the services provided by the ants don’t include grooming.
When I spotted a group of treehoppers like the one above, I settled in for a while. With such a beautiful subject, I was determined to get some good photos. The shot above is probably my favorite out of around 300 or so shots. I struggled to get something in the background to avoid the usual black background that usually happens with macro flash photos. A black background wasn’t going to serve very well for these mostly black treehoppers.
Not only are the adults pretty, but the nymphs are also attractive in their own way. I prefer the black background here.
The treehoppers cluster together in small groups.
Somewhat surprisingly, these treehoppers didn’t appear to be attended by any ants.
I thought this exuvium was interesting. The interior is orangish, like the spikes on the abdomen. I suppose the base color is really mostly orange with black spots. The white color must really just be white scales.
They were on a good sized tree.
While looking around for an identification, I encountered a similar looking species on this plate from the Biologia Centrali-Americana identified as Membracis foliata. This article indicates there’s been confusion around that species though, so it could very well be one of the other species mentioned there (unfortunately I can’t access the full text).
Because they are gregarious, one rarely sees a lone barklouse. I was surprised to find this one by itself on a leaf. There might have been a group nearby, but I didn’t find them.
Elsewhere in the park though, I did find an aggregation.
Treehoppers like this one are sometimes said to mimic thorns. If so, it would have to be a dull thorn, and it doesn’t do it much good hanging out on a leaf. More often though, you’ll find them hanging out together on branches.
The local common name for these social wasps is marimbondo-chapéu in Portuguese or hat wasp in English. The name refers to the form of the nest, seen above.
Seen from below, I’d say it looks more like a sunflower. They are really packed in there. I’d estimate there are probably a couple of hundred of them.
Here’s another crop that I like of that same image.
You’ve probably noticed by now these images were taken during the day. So what are all of them doing hanging out on the nest? Taking a siesta? I wondered the same thing. I spent around 45 minutes taking pictures and attempting to gauge just how closely I could approach without alarming them. During that whole time, not a single one flew off or arrived.
I began to wonder if these wasps might be nocturnal. When I returned a few hours after dark, I had my answer. At that point, the nest was quite active, with dozens flying around. A quick internet search for “nocturnal wasps Brazil” gave me the genus, Apoica, a genus known for its nocturnal habits.
When reviewing the images, I noticed they have relatively large ocelli, which undoubtedly helps them navigate and find prey at night.
Most of these photos were taken with my 100mm macro, sometimes combined with my teleconverter. The closest I ventured was for this habitat shot, taken with my wide angle zoom at its widest 18mm setting.
I don’t have my copy of Latin American Insects with me, but I just checked it via google books. Hogue refers to this genus as parasol wasps, also because of the shape of the nest. He notes that only the common species, Apoica pallens, has a yellow abdomen.
These ants are tending to some treehopper nymphs. Most of the ants are busy collecting honeydew, but the one on the bottom has noticed me and is on alert. I accidentally bumped the branch after this shot and all of the ants started running around looking for something to attack. I held up a leaf for a background here so that the ants would stand out.
In this next shot, I’m assuming the white areas are either treehopper eggs or a protective covering for the eggs. One of the adult treehoppers is also visible here, a darker shade of red than the nymphs.
In this final shot, there are more eggs, another adult and some late instar nymphs.
I found one other grouping of exuviae in the area where I found the one above. I’ve never seen anything like this locally. I believe these are from lepidopterans. There is a slight layer of silk on the bark. Up close, I saw some cast off head capsules. Look closely above, and you’ll notice a leg that must have broken off while struggling free.
I know some caterpillars are gregarious as early instars, but I thought they generally went their separate ways as final instars. I thought this was interesting evidence that in at least one species, they pupate and perhaps eclose together.
This plant was being devoured by dozens of these attractive blister beetles. Above I’ve caught one with a leaf fragment in its mouth. Below, you can see how they’ve stripped a branch clean. The frass seems to be exiting just about as fast as the plant goes in (must be a good source of fiber).
As these pictures show, the plant was literally crawling with these beetles.
The dark backgrounds here are an effect of the camera flash. This was actually happening in broad daylight. How are they able to risk doing that? Blister beetles are so named because they defend themselves with a caustic compound, cantharidin, found in their blood. Predators soon learn to avoid them.
I found some online pictures of Epicauta species resembling these (example).
My web searching also turned up a nice post at Myrmecos, showing the reflexive bleeding.
Finally, there’s lots of good info at this University of Florida Featured Creature page. I saw there that Epicauta species are notable for eating leaves, whereas most other blister beetles limit themselves to flowers. That’s more evidence that these might be a species in that genus.