LETS TALK ABOUT MEMBRACIDS. Yes, I am shouting! What is a Membracid you ask? Besides being among the most loveable little robodorks I have ever seen, the Membracids are a delightful family of insects also known as Trehoppers or Thorn Bugs. Renowned for their unique method of camoflauge, these aptly named insects disguise themselves as thorns/plant parts using their often enlarged and ornate pronotums. But let’s be honest, they look ridiculous.
Roughly 3,200 species of Membracids have been identified with the highest diversity found in the New World Tropics. Unlike beetles and many other colorful insects, Membracids have a tendency to loose their intense colors when they die/dry up. But still, you can get a good idea of the level of silliness we are working with here from these photographs of Academy specimens:
From left to right: Membracis mexicana, Membracis lunata, Adippe zebrina, Platycotis vittata, Sphongophorus sp., and Sphongophorus luctuosus.
Membracids pierce plant stems with their beaks and feed on plant sap both as adults and nymphs, but taking in all that sugar can be overwhelming on their system, and excess sap becomes concentraed as “honeydew”. This honeydew is highly prized by many insects including several species of ant and wasps, which have well-developed ant mutualisms and actually “tend” and protect their “herds” of Membracids from predators. It’s a win-win relationship!
Take a look at this little herd of Umbonia crassicornis. I wouldn’t want to be around for a stampede!: