Phylloscelis atra

Dictyopharine Planthopper

Phylloscelis atra, Planthopper

Family: Dictyopharidae

Subfamily: Dictyopharinae

Length: typically 5-7 mm


This insect could easily be mistaken for a beetle or a Heteropteran. It is unusually rounded along its outside edges and the front wings form a high dome.

The front wings are held over the back but do not meet; instead there is a considerable gape that becomes wider toward the rear of the insect.

As if all this were not interesting enough, Phylloscelis atra also has the habit of holding its front legs out so that they resemble impressive antennae. The insect's actual antenna are quite small, as with most Auchenorrhyncha. The front femora are widely expanded.

But wait, there's more. The species comes in a black form, which is predominantly dark with a light scutellum and legs, and a form in which bold yellowish stripes accentuate the veins.

There are two other alternative forms, too: a wingless form (lacking the rear wings) and a winged form. The later is so scarce that it was unknown to entomologists for many years. The great Homoptera expert Herbert Osborn was incredulous when he heard that a collector in Cincinnati had a winged Phylloscelis atra in his specimen cabinet (Osborn, 1904). The winged form is less rounded, more elongate, than the typical shape of Phylloscelis atra.

Photographer's comments: I had been photographing insects for twenty-six years before I saw my first one of these, the black form. Then six days later I saw my second one, this time the yellow-striped form, more than 200 miles from where I had seen the first.

Phylloscelis atra, unusual planthopper

Phylloscelis atra, dark form

Above: the dark form of Phylloscelis atra; front legs are held like antennae

Below: Note the enlarged front femora

Head, Phylloscelis atra

American Insects site