Inside the world of treehoppers, mini-marvels of the rainforest

These oddly-shaped insects have even stranger habits, like caring for their young and secretly communicating through inaudible vibrations.

A treehopper of the genus Bocydium sports overhead orbs that may resemble a fungus that’s deadly to insects.

If there were a competition for the world’s weirdest insect, treehoppers would have a clear shot at first place. See one for the first time and you’re sure to wonder: What are those strange protrusions sprouting from its body?

Many treehoppers flaunt outlandish outcroppings, such as the helicopter-like orbs of Bocydium sp. Others play it coy, mimicking thorns, leaves, or insect droppings. Still others impersonate ants or wasps. Forty-plus named species, as well as another 700 or so awaiting scientific description, resemble drops of rainwater.

Those singular shapes, insect anatomists explain, stem from the treehopper’s specially modified pronotum—a section of the thorax that in other insects resembles a small, shield-like plate. But treehoppers are the creative kids in their class, with their pronota arching into grotesque spires or globes, veritable billboards of their individuality.

Read This Next

Ötzi the Iceman: What we know 30 years after his discovery
Sanctuary gives hope to chimps, rescuers
Golden hour dazzles at these 10 national parks

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet