SERIES: Invertebrate of the Week

Invertebrate of the Week #4 – Cerogenes auricoma

This week we are highlighting the bizarre planthopper Cerogenes auricoma found in Central America.

A member of the family Fulgoridae, this magnificent little animal feeds on the phloem of host plants and produces copious amounts of filamentous esters that ooze through multiocular pores located on the 6th through 8th abdominal tergites.

The function and evolutionary impetus for those waxy adornments are unknown. One possibility is that they are related to these animals’ nutritional reliance on phloem, the sucrose-rich fluid utilized by plants primarily for the transport of products of photosynthesis.

Cerogenes auricoma on a branch in Honduras
Cerogenes auricoma. Honduras.
Image by Andrew Snyder
Cerogenes auricoma covered in esters in grassy leaves
Cerogenes auricoma in Honduras.
Image by Andrew Snyder
Cerogenes auricoma covered in esters
Cerogenes auricoma.
Image by Richard Pluke

In order to obtain the nitrogen they require for growth, C. auricoma ingests large amounts of sugary phloem. At the concentrations they ingent, the material could have a detrimental effect on their internal osmotic pressure. Researchers believe that secreting excess material in the form of filamentous esters helps counter the physiological effects of ingesting all that sugar.

Cerogenes auricoma on a tree branch
Cerogenes auricoma.
Image by Richard Pluke

These compounds may also have an added benefit in terms of defense in that they have been observed to discourage attack by ants. They also block parasites from reaching the tissues below.

Regardless of the exact origin and function, they make for an absolutely spectacular morphology. If you find yourself in Central America, definitely keep your eyes peeled for these remarkable critters hanging out among the trees!

Cerogenes auricoma museum specimen
Cerogenes auricoma specimen from Peru.

Further Reading

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