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Invertebrate of the Week #4 – Cerogenes auricoma

This week we are highlighting the eye-catching planthopper Cerogenes auricoma which can be 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 primarily through multiocular pores located on the 6th through 8th abdominal tergites.

Cerogenes auricoma. Honduras. Source: Andrew Snyder (http://goo.gl/IxsnyY)

The exact function and evolutionary impetus for these waxy adornments is unknown but it has been postulated that they may have originally arisen in response to the animals’ nutritional reliance on phloem (the sucrose rich fluid utilized by plants primarily for the transport of products of photosynthesis.)

Cerogenes auricoma in Honduras
Cerogenes auricoma in Honduras. Source: Andrew Snyder (http://goo.gl/f92U3F)
Cerogenes auricoma
Cerogenes auricoma. Source: Richard Pluke (http://goo.gl/3JxVtA)

In order to obtain the adequate amount of nitrogen required for growth, C. auricoma must ingest large amounts of sugary phloem which can have a detrimental effect on their internal osmotic pressure.  It has thus been suggested that secreting the excess carbon in the form of filamentous esters emerged as an adequate mechanism for countering the physiological effects of ingesting all that sugar.

Cerogenes auricoma. Source: Richard Pluke (http://goo.gl/jHlWIU)

It would also appear that these compounds may have an added benefit in terms of defense in that they have been observed to discourage attack by ants and help prevent parasites from reaching the tissues below.

Regardless of the exact origin and function, they make for an absolutely spectacular morphology so if you find yourself in Central America, definitely keep your eyes peeled for this remarkable little critter hanging-out among the trees!

Cerogenes auricoma.  Peru.  Source: http://goo.gl/ZhXQDl
Cerogenes auricoma. Peru. Source: http://goo.gl/ZhXQDl
Further Reading:
  • Goemans, G. E. E. R. T. “The Fulgoridae (Hemiptera, Fulgoromorpha) of Guatemala.” Biodiversidad de Guatemala 1 (2006): 337-344.
  • Mason, Robert T., et al. “Characterization of fulgorid waxes (Homoptera: Fulgoridae: Insecta).” Insect biochemistry 19.8 (1989): 737-740.
  • O’Brien, L. B. “The wild wonderful world of Fulgoromorpha.” Zikaden-Leafhoppers, Planthoppers and Cicadas (Insecta: Hemiptera: Auchenorrhyncha). Denisia 4 (2002): 83-102.
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