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August 2021

Bugs in black

This insect is a regular visitor to the Melia azedarach (chinaberry) trees here. Its crawling movement is smooth and has prominent white eyes and a black and green body. Could you please identify it for me?

Answer

Desudaba psittacus (Photos courtesy Arthur Stafford) Desudaba psittacus (Photos courtesy Arthur Stafford) Desudaba psittacus that has been colonised by an entomopathogenic fungus (Photo courtesy Ross Coupland)

The striking colours identify this as Desudaba psittacus. It belongs to a family of true bugs known as the Fulgoridae, which are sometimes called lanternflies (although they are not true flies).

In addition to the obvious colour contrasts of a broad black body, white eyes, and a white spotted green abdomen, this insect’s outspread hind wings would reveal patches of bright red. All members of the genus Desudaba have such a patch, though the colour varies. Flashing bright colours can serve as a warning to predators that may be ‘startled’ by sudden changes in the appearance of their potential prey.

Fulgorid bugs are usually found resting on tree bark. They can be difficult to photograph as one of their defensive behaviours is to continually crawl sideways out of the frustrated photographer’s line of sight.

If you were to examine the underside of the head of this bug you would see its feeding tube or ‘proboscis’ which is largely hidden underneath the body when not in use. Most bugs use this for piercing plants and sucking up their juices. Fulgorids need to insert it through the tree bark. Another group of sucking bugs, the assassin bugs, are predators on other insects. Assassin bugs impale prey with the proboscis, inject chemicals that act to paralyse it and liquefy the body tissues that it subsequently sucks up.

Like many other insects, fulgorids can fall victim to entomopathogenic fungi. The fungus invades the insect’s tissues and gradually consumes it from within. After the insect dies strands of the fungus grow from its corpse, spreading fungal spores to infect more hapless insects.

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