Wax and Bark

Look closely at the photo below. Can you see anything on the bark?

There is well developed lichen, but it also shares the branch with three Flatidae, in particular from the subfamily Flatoidinae. I took this photo a few months ago at the Natural History Museum in London while I was comparing and identifying fulgoromorpha from the Manchester Museum collection. The mimetic association with the lichen and tree bark is obvious.

Many Hemipterans have mimetic associations with plants. The most striking examples, however, appear to be in the families Flatidae and Fulgoridae.
The nymphs and adults of both families can strongly resemble lichens and mosses. This is obvious from merely looking at one of these organisms perched on the side of a tree. Entomologist Geert Goemans has even observed Fulgorids lined up underneath lichens . When one member of the line up moves, the others follow suit. (Johnson and Foster 1986, O’Brien and
Wilson, 1985).

I have shown people Fulgoridae specimens from the Manchester Museum collection at public events. There are always so many questions about the insect’s apperance. One of the most common questions are about the white protrusions that have been preserved on some specimens. These are wax filaments that the Fulgorid had secreted. The wax may be a defense strategy to make the lantern bug look more like a lichen. The colours, patterns and wax secretions all combine to camouflage the insect.

I recently finished an article on the Manchester Museum’s collection of Auchenorryncha, with a focus on the Fulgoridae and the Manchester Museum’s resources. I next plan to observe both botanical and entomological specimens from the same geographical regions in the museum’s collections and see if there is any correlation between the two data sets. This project will have to go beyond the Manchester Museum, as I will need to observe as wide a group of organisms as possible.

If you have any information on this subject, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Here’s a video of a Fulgoromorpha nymph with wax filaments (probably from the family Eurybrachidae.)


O’ Brien, L. 1988 New World Fulgoridae with Elongate Head Processes Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs

Goemans, G. 2009 Flickr Account- http://www.flickr.com/photos/39247311@N03/4227741623/in/set-72157623798181795

Ming Leong T.,Hugh Murphy D. and Leong L., Records of the Lantern Bug, Laternaria oculata in Singapore with notes on Zanna nobilis NATURE IN SINGAPORE 2009 2: 495–501

4 responses to “Wax and Bark

    • Thanks! Beautiful shots. I’ll have to try out your photography techniques next time I’m in the field.

      Nymphs are ridiculously hard to identify. I’m almost relieved to see that even experts like Lois O’ Brien find it difficult!

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