We saw this little critter with dazzling colors at McCrory last week. I’m not a specialist in cicadelids but I think it’s a red-banded leafhopper, a common insect among trees around here. If it is indeed a red-banded leafhopper, it has the ability to transmit Xylella fastidiosa, a phytopathogenic bacteria causing Pierce’s Disease or leaf scorch on elms and oaks. I just can’t get over its dazzling colors. The run-of-the-mill hypothesis for adaptive advantage of having such brilliant combination of body colors is that it signals bad taste or down-right poison to any potential predators out there. Could this be the case here? Judging by my limited knowledge of leafhoppers, they are not necessarily poisonous or bad tasting to birds or other predators. If so, what drove the evolution of beautiful green-red stripes seemingly airbrushed on the critter’s side?
Every year I and my wife eagerly await for hummingbird moth appearance at McCory Gardens and this year doesn’t disappoint. Last week we stepped into the garden just before sunset and I immediately spotted six figures hovering above some flowers. Hummingbirds moth are indeed hummingbird-like. They flap their wings very fast and as the result are able to hover steadily in the air while telescoping their long proboscis into the flowers’ nectaries, usually located way down in the bottom of the flowers. The wings usually flap so rapidly, they seem to be a blur.
The long proboscis are retractable and are usually coiled and tucked underneath the head when not used to feed. The picture below illustrates the beginning of proboscis coiling just after the moth finished feeding on a flower’s nectary.
The species of hummingbird moth that we seem to always spot here in Brookings is white-lined sphinx moth, Hyles lineata.White-lined sphinx moth is readily identifiable by the white streak on the forewings and the pink area on the hindwings. The larvae have a unique feature of a horn jutting out of the hind end, earning its nickname of ‘hornworm’. White-lined sphinx moth larvae feed on various plants including garden plants such as tomato, elm or evening primrose. Yet the injuries caused by their feeding are relatively mild and do not usually require any control. The larvae burrow into the ground to pupate. It takes 3-4 weeks for adult moth to emerge from the pupa. Here in South Dakota we normally see up to two generations of hummingbird moth per year.
Although some have reported that hummingbird moths are easily spotted in daylight, I always found them at dusk. This past week has been a week for hummingbird moth sightings. A professor whose office is above me stopped by and asked about ‘a hummingbird-like moth’ he saw in his yard. A research specialist left two hummingbird moths on my desk (“They were coming after me!”), and finally I caught the town librarians chattering about these moths when checking out my customary weekend books on Friday. How about you? Have you spotted a hummingbird moth lately?