The great strapping fellow

by Richard Jones

Since having to wear reading glasses [...] I do that 'double take' thing of having to square my face to something then back off a few inches to get it into focus...

Richard JonesSince having to wear reading glasses (my squinting started about 4 years ago), I do that 'double take' thing of having to square my face to something then back off a few inches to get it into focus. I did this a few days ago in the garden and was rewarded with the sight of Ledra aurita, a large and curiously shaped plant-hopper I'd never seen before. 

When I say large, I mean 15-18 mm long, so you can imagine how small most of the others are. It is immediately identified by the two large, broad, flat-horned growths on its thorax. Ordinarily this bizarre shape would break up its outline as it sat close to the lichen-encrusted bark of an oak branch, but sitting, as it was, on the back panel or my garden bench, it rather stood out. 

According to my sources, Ledra is widespread across southern and central England, usually in oak woods, but is scarce or at least seldom seen, probably because it is a well-camouflaged tree-dweller. Apparently it flies at night and sometimes appears in lights used for moth-trapping. 

This scarcity explains why it has no common English name. It is commoner on the Continent, and is known in German as the Ohrzikade (eared cicada), and in French as the Grand Diable (great devil). My foreign languages are a bit rusty, so I thought I'd better have a quick check of my translations using the Yahoo Babel Fish website. Sure enough Ohr is easily translated as ear, but I was mightily perplexed by its rendering of the French name as 'great strapping fellow'. 

Unfortunately, because of the way my mind works, I will never be able to think of Ledra as anything else now. Unless my 11-year-old daughter has her way. She took one look at the images and described it perfectly as a scabby frog.

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Gardeners' World Web User 30/07/2009 at 10:55

Does Ledra make spittle blobs if it is a plant hopper?

Gardeners' World Web User 30/07/2009 at 23:04

What an amazing creature! Great images.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:39

Richard, your daughter has got it in one, I think! Interesting bug it is too:)