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Ants “Milking” Treehoppers

9-18-15  Publilia concava 109Certain species of treehoppers (a type of true bug) release a sugary liquid called honeydew, made mostly from excess plant sap that they consume. Ants farm these treehoppers, much as they farm aphids, for their honeydew. An ant grasps a treehopper and strokes it with its antennae, causing a droplet of honeydew to appear at the tip of the treehopper’s abdomen, which the ant then consumes. Both insects benefit from this mutualistic arrangement. The ants get honeydew, and in return, provide protection for the treehoppers from predators. The plant indirectly benefits from the ants, as well, for if the ants were not there, the treehoppers’ honeydew would fall onto the plant, causing mold growth on fruits and leaves. Eggs, nymphs and adult treehoppers can usually all be found in one location. (Photo insert: a treehopper nymph on left, adult treehopper on right) To see a video of ants farming a type of treehopper called a thornbug, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoeJn3Imss4.

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3 responses

  1. So… how do all those treehoppers end up in one place? Are the eggs laid in spots where the nymphs will just be happy/satisfied hanging out, once they hatch?
    Would I be most likely to see this happening on a low bush or sappling or…? (Just wondering where to look.)
    Once again, very interesting! Thanks! – Dell

    September 22, 2015 at 11:07 am

    • Exactly, Dell! Eggs laid, hatch, nymphs feed and molt, adults hang around milking aphids (which were probably there when the adult treehopper laid her eggs. These were on goldenrod, I believe. Don’t know if certain species tend to be found on certain plants, or if aphids are the only requirement! Overgrown fields would be a good place to check.

      September 22, 2015 at 11:37 am

  2. Cheron barton

    Yikes.. Who would have thought… All this was goin on!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    September 22, 2015 at 7:48 pm

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