These Are Not Moths

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 these weren’t decorations at all.  They were insects that resembled tiny moths.

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.

All the 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.

Planthopper nymph by David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

So when you see fuzz on a plant, take a second look.  It might be something really interesting.

(photos of adult planthoppers by Kate St. John. Planthopper nymph by David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org)

5 thoughts on “These Are Not Moths

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. My sister and I have always been bug nerds. We always called these guys Fuzzbugs. So cool. We worked in our dad’s garden all summer and saw all the wildlife up close and personal. People react differently to you when you say you’re a bug watcher, so I always said I was looking for birds. I do, but am mainly looking for insects…..

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