October 2014

Leaping Treehopper

Can you identify the insect in this video and tell us what it is doing?

Answer

The insect in your video looks like the nymph of an Acacia Horned Treehopper, Sextius virescens. This insect is found in many parts of Australia and is usually associated with wattle trees, Acacia spp.

Treehoppers are True Bugs and they suck the sap of tree branches and often exude excess water and sugars in the form of honeydew. Honeydew is a very sticky substance and these insects have various methods of cleaning themselves. It is postulated that this species uses an apparatus at the end of its abdomen known as an anal whip to flick the honeydew away from itself.

Adults and nymphs are gregarious and often attended by ants that feed on the honeydew secreted by the bugs and in return the ants defend the plant and the treehoppers from predators.

As you have discovered, treehoppers are also phenomenally fast and high jumpers when threatened, often propelling themselves right out of sight of danger. The nymph in your video must have been feeling very uncomfortable indeed in a barren environment so far removed from the protection of its host plant, family and ant guardians. It appears to be cleaning itself in preparation for its sudden leap into the unknown.

This species was first documented in our entomological collection in the early 1900’s by Queensland Museum entomologist Henry Hacker. You can see his original specimens preserved in a unit tray from one of our cabinet drawers in this photo of the nymphs and the adult insects which are fully winged. These specimens have lost the bright colours of the living insects but still provide valuable information about their widespread distribution in Queensland. They are also recorded from many other parts of Australia including Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Hacker’s specimens illustrate the importance of collections for documenting the morphology and distribution of the Acacia Horned Treehopper but your video clip gives an amusing insight into their behaviour. 

Ants attending adult Acacia Horned Treehopper, Sextius virescens. Photo by Narelle Power.Queensland Museum Insect Collection specimens of Sextius virescens. Photo by Noel Starick.

Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.