Sunday, June 27, 2010
The Candy-Striped Leafhopper
But when you get close enough it is easy to see that it is one of North America's prettiest insects. It's technically known as Graphocephala coccineal, but has lots of common names that reflect its flashy looks: red-banded leafhopper, red-and-blue leafhopper, and scarlet-and-green leafhopper.
It's also called a shooter or sharpshooter because of its behavior, but which behavior is debated and there are a few different explanations. They may seem like sharpshooters because they damage leaves with tiny bullet-like holes. Or because they are good at disappearing when disturbed -- like army marksmen evading enemies.
The best explanation probably is because they shoot drops of liquid from their rear ends -- and with audible popping sounds. Candy-striped leafhoppers feed by sucking on plant juices and they take in a lot of fluid to get the nutrients. They get rid of the excess by forcibly shooting liquid droplets from their butts!
Many field guides say that candy-striped leafhoppers are meadow and woodland dwellers, but this one (and many of its kind) live on the plants that line the streets of New York City.
There is more information about urban insects in my book, A Field Guide to Urban Wildlife of North America, which will be published by Stackpole Books in spring 2011.