Treehoppers (Membracidae family)
These small bugs look like a thorn and are fascinating to see walk. There are well over 3,200 species of treehopper spread over 400 genera, allowing for a lot of diversity in how they look. But why do they look like this? What more can we learn about them? Well, let's find out!
They get their name due to the fact that they are mostly found on trees. Also, many of their close relatives have similar names such as “Leafhopper,” “froghopper” and “planthopper”, so it makes sense to keep up the naming scheme.
Physical Description and Behavior
These small insects come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but all of them resemble that of a thorn. This is done as a form of mimicry in order to protect them from the prying eyes of predators. This horn is actually an enlarged thorax, which may also provide extra armor protection. The young of the species often do not have the same mimicry as the adults, and sometimes look creepy in large numbers.
Fun Fact: Many species of treehopper have a mutual relationship with ants. The bugs consume plant sap, which they later process into sweet nectar that attracts ants. The ants provide a form of extra protection against predators; as a result, it is not uncommon to see treehoppers in large numbers surrounded by ants.
When it is time for the females to reproduce, they may lay their eggs on the plant. Otherwise, they rip the plant open and lay their eggs in the living tissues of the plant. They do this because the young nymphs can then consume the sap more easily. Female treehoppers will often stay with their eggs, and even protect them from predators as they grow.
Habitat and Location
This family is found all around the world, with the exceptions being New Zealand, Madagascar, and Antarctica. I could not find a distribution map, so I decided to make one myself based on the information that I was able to find. The information came from InsectMuseum.org, Wikipedia, and more
They seem to mainly prefer places with a lot of forest canopy, so it is unlikely that you will find this family in arid or dry regions, or places where the tree coverage is thin or non-existent.
If you want to learn more about these great insects, check out the video below