Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Treehopper in Yucatan, Mexico

from the January 1, 2012 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

The other day a pea-size insect turned up on a Chaya leaf right beside me as I read a book. That's him above. That's one of the prettiest and most bizarrely ornamented organisms I've seen in a long time. Still, there's something familiar about the critter despite his psychedelic, spiky covering. With those oversized, widely spaced, goggly compound-eyes and long, backwardly swept wings, he's reminiscent of a cicada or aphid. That makes sense because he belongs to the cicada/aphid "order," the Homoptera.

This is a treehopper, which I know because in many other places, all my life, I've been running into many treehopper kinds. And one thing I know about treehoppers is that they're likely to turn up with surprising shapes and patterns, and wearing gaudy colors.

In fact, you might enjoy doing a search-engine image search on the keyword "treehopper," and just look at the rainbow of treehopper types turning up in the thumbnails. Many treehoppers protect themselves with "disruptive patterning," like a soldier's camouflage uniform with its random splotches breaking up the body's contour lines. Others employ bright colors, taking advantage of a predator's notion that "Anything this garishly colored must be dangerous." Many bear spines causing them to look plant thorns. I can't imagine, though, the prime motive behind our treehopper's zebra-lined, honeycombed, spiny look.

On the Internet you might enjoy playing with the "Illustrated interactive keys for identifying treehoppers," which keeps track of the treehopper's features you feed in, reducing the list of possible names until you have just one name left. Cick here.

Actually, I "keyed out" to some species very similar to ours, in the family Membracidae, but I never did get an exact match. If you have better luck than I, let me know.