Rhododendron leaf hoppers

Posted: Tuesday 3 September 2013
by Richard Jones

With its pale turquoise green body and stylish lone-ranger face mask, the rhododendron leafhopper is one of the prettiest insects you can find in a garden.

Today I’ve been playing peek-a-boo with some leafhoppers. With its pale turquoise green body, brashly marked with bright crimson chevrons, and its stylish black lone-ranger face mask, the rhododendron leafhopper, Graphocephala fennahi, is, without doubt, one of the prettiest insects you can find in a garden. And, to my mind, it is one of the most playful too.

There it is, sitting quite sedately in the middle of a great glossy leaf, showing off its raucous finery, but the moment you move closer to have a little look-see, it sidles over to the edge, pauses for a moment, then flicks itself round to the leaf underside. If you gently twist the leaf round, it reverse waddles back over to the topside. Twist it again and round it sidles again.

When you get bored of leafhopper hide-and-seek, you can give the branch a stiff tap and hear the tickety-tick rattle as dozens of them launch themselves away on their long spring-loaded hind legs. Airborne, they are even brighter, as the vivid red abdomen is revealed, further emphasized (if that were possible) by the insect’s smoky membranous flight hind-wings. A quick half-circle orbit of the branch, and they all come back to land with a similar series of, this time, slightly less synchronized clicks. Wonderful.

Twist, sidle, twist, sidle, tap, tap, twist, sidle. It’s brilliant fun. I’d been on a gentle cycle ride round Dulwich Park, and stopped off at the ‘American’ garden which is dominated by a wide variety of rhododendron species and cultivars. I’m sure I must have been smiling broadly, and was probably taken for some slightly wild, but hopefully harmless simpleton who always spends his days grinning at rhododendron leaves.

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