Jul 21 2012

These Are Not Moths

Published by at 7:20 am under Insects, Fish, Frogs,Schenley Park

Last weekend in Schenley Park I noticed white fuzz and a row of decorations on the stems of yellow jewelweed.  When I stepped closer I learned they weren't decorations at all.  They were insects that resembled tiny moths.

I had a camera with me so I sent photos to my bug experts Chuck Tague and Monica Miller asking, "What are these insects and is the white fuzz related to them?"

Chuck and Monica agreed -- these are flatid planthoppers -- but they wouldn't speculate on the species.  Some flatids are so hard to identify they have to be dissected by an expert.

No matter the species, planthoppers have similar lifestyles:

  • They often resemble parts of plants as a means of camouflage.
  • They move very, very slowly so as not to attract attention but they hop like grasshoppers when disturbed.  The group I photographed may have been moving but I never noticed.  I wish I'd known they hopped. I might have tried disturbing them.
  • Though planthoppers suck juice from plants they rarely reach the 'pest' level.
  • Adult females secrete a waxy substance that protects the eggs and young from water and predation.  This is part of what makes up the white fuzz.
  • Their nymphs are ghostly white with fuzzy, wispy tails.  They're so small they look like fuzz without magnification.

The nymphs are kind of cute except their faces are spooky.  Here's a close-up from bugwood.org to show you what I mean.


So when you see fuzz on a plant it's worth a second look.  There might be something really interesting in it.

(photo of planthopper nymph by David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org. Photo of adults by Kate St. John)

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “These Are Not Moths”

  1. Justin Collingeron 21 Jul 2012 at 12:20 pm

    For more fuzzy fun, there are some Beech Wooly Aphids at Frick Park at the bottom of Biddle trail.

  2. Marcy Con 22 Jul 2012 at 9:24 am

    Green ones are much harder to spot…seems there are more of these around…

  3. Marcy Con 22 Jul 2012 at 9:28 am

    If there are wooly aphids, look carefully for the Harvester Butterfly who uses these as the host for it’s caterpillar…it’s the only carnivorous butterfly in North America…got some close ups of the caterpillar on the aphids which were on the Speckled Alder(another host plant for the wooly aphids).

  4. Jenniferon 22 Jul 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Hi Kate. Thanks for this post. I’ve seen these before but never knew what they were.

    Great show today on 1360 AM. I too am interested in bird behavior. I could never do a “Big Year”. I like to watch a bird until it flies away.

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