The family of Treehoppers otherwise known as Membracidae is made up of more than 3,500 species.
Treehoppers evolved from the order Hemiptera (from the Greek “halfwings”) cousins to many other winged insects. Treehoppers are mostly found in the tropical world and instantly draw the attention from passers-by with their incongruous shapes and especially protruding head gear, called “pronotum.”
They use the pronotum to mimic thorns on the branches they live on, preventing predators from seeing them. This is not their only source of defence however.
Treehoppers feed on plant sap by drilling into plant stems. As a result, a sugary substance called “honeydew” is secreted. The honeydew is an important food source for a variety of ants, bees and wasps. In return presence of the ants, bees and wasps keeps predators away and is a direct benefit of their symbiotic relationship.
Some species of Treehopper also have a well-developed ant mutualism, and these species are normally gregarious, helping to attract ever more ants to protect them.
The Treehopper pictured was found with others in the INEA Nursery in Trajano de Morais, around 100km from here, where we have picked up seedlings. I have identified the Genus as Heteronotus , confirmed by Dr. Lewis Deitz.
After this brief introduction, I’m sure you will want to visit and look out for these amazing creatures. I certainly can’t wait to find more!!
Ed: To see the symbiosis in action see Nicholas’ video here.