These mating treehoppers (Acutalis brunnea) picked a good place to get together, at least from a photographer’s perspective. I like the composition of this full frame image, but there’s so many different ways I could crop it.
Here’s a closer look at the pair.
I’ve stared at the full size image, but I can’t decide which one is male and which one is female.
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).
This atypical treehopper belongs not to the family Membracidae, but to a separate family, Aetalionidae.
Searching around on the internet, it seems most photographers generally seem to catch these hoppers while tending their eggs, as shown here.
To learn a bit more about the family check out Ted C. MacRae’s post from earlier this year.
I believe these photos are all of the same individual, but I can’t be sure. It was skittish, but when spooked it always seemed to land close by.
These really are very small treehoppers, only around 3mm long.
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.
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.
There are a couple of freshly molted treehopper nymphs shown here. Just below them, you can see a shed exoskeleton. Their colors will return as their new skins harden. In the meantime, they inflate themselves so that their new skins harden larger than their previous ones.
Below is an adult that was hanging around a bit farther down the stem. That’s what they’ll eventually look like. You can see how the horn gets bigger with each molt.