Wednesday 29 May 2013

Eye-Catching Insects: Red-and-Black Froghopper at Carlton Marshes

We spent part of the weekend at Carlton Marshes, a nature reserve under the care of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust near Lowestoft. I am always on the look-out for Ladybirds, and as I scanned the grassy verge at the edge of the car park, a red insect caught my eye. I could see immediately, even from some distance, that it was not a Ladybird. I grabbed my camera for a record shot, before moving a little closer.

I have only seen one of these insects once before - and that was at Sutton Hoo last year. The insect is, I believe, a Red-and-Black Froghopper (Cercopis vulnerata). I saw the Sutton Hoo one on 6 June 2012, so around the same time of year.

This insect is one of our largest Homopterans. These bugs are close relatives of our Hemiptera: both classes of creature have piercing-sucking mouthparts. Those Homoptera that have wings are graced with ones that are uniform in structure, hence their name, Homoptera, meaning “same wing".

It is rare to see the larvae as these develop inside solidified 'cuckoo-spit', tucked away underground on the roots of plants.  

As I mentioned, I like to keep an eye out for Ladybirds. I also enjoy seeing other brightly coloured insects. You can see three here that caught my attention when I was in the Peloponnese back in 2010.  

A question has arisen in my mind. We all know that brightly coloured insects or amphibians often use their colour as a warning (Aposematism) to potential predators, and indeed some may be toxic in some way.

Why is it safer or more effective, I wonder, to stand out from the crowd in a fiery coat
 than to be hidden in the verge with grass-green elytra for 'background matching' camouflage? 

Camouflage or Cryptic Coloration, of course, is itself essentially a form of visual mimicry. The Froghopper here is presumably protected to some degree by warning coloration.

Scientist have identified several kinds of warning coloration in the natural world, including ...
  • Batesian mimicry, when a harmless mimic poses as harmful
  • Müllerian mimicry, when two or more harmful species mutually advertise themselves as harmful
  • and Mertensian mimicry, when a killer mimic resembles a less harmful but lesson-teaching model.

You might be interested in this National Geographic article on the subject of camouflage.

Rider: my fascination in these insects (and indeed on most items on this blog) is purely from the perspective of an interested amateur. If readers spot inaccuracies, please feel free to leave a comment and point them out! I blog because I love to discover more about the natural world. 


Anonymous said...

Hi Caroline, that was a really interesting post, thank you. Fabulous looking insect.

Crafty Green Poet said...

what an amazing insect!