Planthopper parasite moth larvae

Here are some photographs of Fulgoraecia exigua, a moth that parasitizes planthoppers during its larval phase. There were dozens of these caterpillars at this location, many of them hanging by silk threads. They look like miniature sheep (a parasite in sheep’s clothing, I guess), and are rather cute, I think. But not for planthoppers, as you can probably guess. When the larvae hatch (earlier in the season) they crawl around and seek out planthoppers to latch onto, then suck their juices and eventually displace their hosts’ wings as the weeks go by. I.e., the planthoppers go about their lives with a caterpillar attached to their abdomens. When it’s done feeding the caterpillar lowers itself to the ground on a silk thread and pupates. I’m going to go back to the spot see if I can get photographs of the pupal form, which looks like a miniature version of the Sidney Opera House, built from the waxy fluff that protected them.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Planthopper parasite moth (Fulgoraecia exigua)

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Planthopper parasite moth (Fulgoraecia exigua)

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Planthopper parasite moth (Fulgoraecia exigua)

Photographed on the Goshen Running Path, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Many thanks to Drs Roger Latham and Doug Tallamy for identification help.

About Colin Purrington

PhD in evolutionary biology • twitterinstagram
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