Wax-tail Hopper

Waxtail Hopper, or Wax-tailed Planthopper

What on earth is that weird, red-eyed bug with white flames coming out of its rear?

I photographed this Wax-tail Hopper or Wax-tailed Planthopper, Pterodictya reticularis, about half-way to the top of the Kapok Tower, a 135-foot observation tower at Sacha Lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

The Kapok Tower is known to birders and ornithologists for its access to vast Amazonian views of fruit-eating birds like toucans and parrots, and the branches that hold up the top platform of the canopy is adorned with thousands of orchid plants. But sometimes, the best find in a canopy is right under your nose, and this Wax-tail Hopper will always be my most memorable find of the Kapok Tower.

Wax-tail Hoppers consume plant juice by inserting their mouths into the phloems of plants. They convert the nutrients of this plant material into long, bizarre wax plumes.

Nobody knows exactly what the function of these wax plumes is, but entomologists believe the primary function is defensive. Predators learn that this insect is armed with the nasty taste of gobs of wax, and who wants to eat that?

As a side-note, I always have trouble with canopy towers. Walking up steep and narrow staircases is never easy for people like me with extreme fear of heights. The Kapok Tower is different from most canopy towers in that it's a wood construction around a large tree, rather than a metal tower. Both devastate me. Metal towers tend to be narrow, and sway in the wind. The Kapok Tower heightens my fear of heights simply because it is damp wood nailed to an old tree.