July 17, 2021
We're reaching into the archives for today's #BenInNature update presented by our friends at Carter Bank & Trust! The following post was originally published on July 12, 2020.
This little guy is Oncometopia orbona, which goes by one of my favorite common names of all time: the broad-headed sharpshooter! I think Lee Van Cleef was called that in a western once...
The broad-headed sharpshooter is a type of leafhopper belonging to the family Cicadellidae. These insects use tiny piercing mouthparts to suck the juices from plants. They also have modified hind legs that allow them to jump with incredible speed and distance (comparatively speaking).
In fact, the nymphs of one species of leafhopper -- Issus coleoptratus -- have a fascinating innovation that allows them to jump with incredible precision. These leafhoppers jump so fast that in order to jump in a straight line and land where they want to land, they have to push off with both hind feet at virtually the exact same moment. If one leg is more than 30 microseconds slower than the other, the leafhopper will land off course. That window of time is faster than the leafhopper's brain can process, so it evolved an amazing solution: the upper hind legs of Issus coleoptratus have interlocking toothed gears that allow both legs to fire at the exact same moment! As of now, it's the only animal known to have evolved gears!
When you look at leafhoppers up close, you might notice that they bear a striking resemblance to cicadas, and you might have also noticed that they belong to the family Cicadellidae. This is no coincidence; both leafhoppers and cicadas belong to the infraorder Cicadomorpha. Consider the leafhopper the cicada's tiny cousin!
Social distancing can be difficult, but it presents a great opportunity to become reacquainted with nature. In this series of posts, Administrator of Science Ben Williams ventures outdoors to record a snapshot of the unique sights that can be found in the natural world. New updates are posted Monday - Friday, with previous posts highlighted on the weekends. This series of posts is made possible thanks to the support of VMNH Corporate Partner Carter Bank & Trust (www.cbtcares.com).
NATURE PHOTO IDENTIFICATIONS
If you discover something in nature that you would like help identifying, be sure to message us right here on Facebook with a picture (please include location and date of picture) and we'll have our experts help you identify it!