Ensign Scale

A week ago, when pulling up some of the many Morrow’s honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) bushes at the edge of my yard, I found some Phyllonorycter (Gracillariidae) mines in a few of the leaves, so I stuffed these into a vial to try and find out exactly what species of moth was responsible.  Last night Julia spotted a tiny (1.7 mm) white bug in the vial that I hadn’t noticed before.  My first impression was of a young mealybug destroyer, but when I looked at it through my macro lens today I discovered that it was another wax-covered insect: an ensign scale (Ortheziidae), the first I’ve ever seen.

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Not much seems to be known about these, but after checking a few sources I believe this is a female, unusual among female scale insects in having long legs and walking around rather than being sedentary and concealed beneath a scale-like covering.  There are 31 species of ensign scales in the United States, and they can be found on just about any part of a plant including the roots.  Some feed on fungal hyphae instead of (or maybe in addition to) plant juices.

About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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3 Responses to Ensign Scale

  1. Annie Runyon says:

    What fun! I am again in awe of your ability to capture such a delicate, tiny creature so beautifully. Your note about some of these scale insects eating fungal hyphae on plant roots makes me wonder … how does such a bumpy-backed animal navigate in the soil? Or do the soil-dwellers have smoother backs? Thank you for sharing such interesting images and knowledge.

    • Good question! I just scanned through the photos on BugGuide, and noticed that these have a smoother, more streamlined appearance. The photographer noted that they were “found under a rock on some grass roots,” so I think you’ve got the right idea.

  2. Annie Runyon says:

    That is interesting. Now I am wondering why these particular ensign scale insects have those bumps in the first place … do they help the animal breathe, regulate temperature, or store something inside? What ever the reason, the structure is beautiful.

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