Citrus Flatid Planthopper

The citrus flatid planthopper (Metcalfa pruinosa) makes me happy. It is a member of the family Flatidae, whose name amuses me greatly (and, yes, references the fact that these insects are “flat” when viewed from above).

Also known as the frosted moth-bug, Pruinosa is common in eastern North America, ranging from Canada to Mexico. Adults are 5-8 mm long. Color varies from gray to brown, mottled with a characteristic bluish-white wax or powder. Three dark spots in a triangle formation are located at the front of each forewing.

Using mouthparts adapted to piercing and sucking, the citrus flatid planthopper is found on many different plants — citrus, obviously, but also camellias, azaleas, viburnum, magnolia, holly trees, grape and other vines, shrubs, and some herbs. Ordinarily, it does not permanently damage the plants upon which it feeds, but it can affect crops already weakened by frost or disease. The wax on its body, which nymphs use for camouflage, can be left behind under leaves and cosmetically affect the sale value of plants. It also gives me a delightful excuse to use the word flocculent, which is undeservedly under-utilized.

Speaking of flocculence, which is, again, a really great word that I don’t get enough of a chance to use, check out the weird little white specks in the photos above, covered in (ahem) flocculent white fluff. See the little eyeballs? Those are Metcalfa pruinosa nymphs. They are practically invisible inside their little furry coat, until you grab the plant stem and they move!

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