Greetings from the Everglades! At least, that’s where I am right now if everything has gone according to plan. I’m actually writing this in early March and scheduling it to be posted on April 1. This month’s mystery is something I have not seen in person as of this writing, but by the time you’re reading this I’ll have visited some places where I might find it.
In September 2011, Carmen Champagne took this photo of what she described as “wisps of foam” on a twig in Athens, Georgia. She says that she touched them gently and they held their form.
When Carmen posted her photo to BugGuide.net, Kim Fleming recognized it as similar to something she had found in October 2007, in western South Carolina:
What these most remind me of is this photo of a leafhopper in the genus Texananus depositing protective coverings over slits in a stem in which it has inserted its eggs. Not a perfect match, though, and when I showed these photos to Roman Rakitov–who has studied leafhopper egg coverings more than anyone, I’m pretty sure–he didn’t know what to make of them. I also showed them to leafhopper/treehopper/spittlebug specialist Andy Hamilton, who forwarded them to colleagues at the Canadian National Collection, and they didn’t recognize them either. However, one of them wondered if some kind of orthopteran (grasshopper, katydid, cricket, etc.) might be responsible, which is an interesting idea. Certain crickets and katydids insert their eggs in stems, and grasshoppers cover their eggs in a frothy substance, but I’m not aware of any orthopterans that combine these two strategies (grasshopper eggs are buried in the ground). I do think these foamy wisps are concealing inserted eggs; there is a disturbed flap of bark visible at the base of one of them at the bottom of Kim’s close-up, and I see several others in her first photo.
Carmen thought she remembered the ones she found being on a sweetgum twig. Kim’s were on some kind of vine growing up a cedar tree. Whatever this insect is, it isn’t host specific. Evidently the eggs are laid in the fall, since these photos were taken in September and October, but I’m hoping that remnants of them might still be visible in early spring. If anyone out there has seen these before, I’d like to know where–surely this insect has a broader range than just eastern Georgia and western South Carolina.