Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Helicopter-like Bocydium globulare

Bocydium globulare, one of the weirdest looking insects
Bocydium globulare
Photograph by Sérgio Monteiro
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hemiptera
Family: Membracidae
Genus: Bocydium
Bocydium globulare
Common name(s): Brazilian treehopper, Bell Bearer, Globulare

The first time I saw photos of this bizarre creature I was like..What the f**, this thing can't be real! And if it is, what's with the weird thing on its head?

Well it seems this insect is 100 % real. Scientifically described as Bocydium globulare, this guy is a worthy challenger for the title of world's weirdest looking insect.

B. globulare can only be found in the northern half of South America. It is a solitary species, with individuals usually spotted feeding on the undersides of Glory Bush leaves (Miconia spp.), a few meters above the forest floor.

What's with the curious appendages?
To the disappointment of some, the balls are not eyes. Although that would be really cool. The balls are simply hollow spheres made of chitin. So, what's the purpose of the weird structure? Actually noone knows for sure!

A first guess would be that it is a sexual characteristic. However, this theory seems to fall apart as such traits are almost always limited to males, which is not the case with the Brazilian treehopper.

Bocydium globulare
Photograph by Sérgio Monteiro

Some scientists like Prof. Martin Hemp hypothesize that "the hollow globes, like the remarkable excrescences exhibited by other treehoppers, probably deter predators." This sounds more probable as it would be quite hard to capture let alone chew an insect with all those spines and excrescences.

Another theory is that the hair featured on the appendages could be sensory bristles, thus the ornament may have a still unknown tactile function.

Finally, a third theory is that the growth may be a decoy, mimicking a fake head from the front. If a predator goes for the fake head the insect has a chance to survive.  Here's a front image, showing how the weird structure might look like a head.

Model of the Ball-bearing Treehopper (bocydium globulare)
Bocydium globulare model from the Museum of Natural History Berlin
made ​​by the sculptor Alfred Keller (1902–1955) in the year 1953
By Anagoria (Own work) [GFDL],
via Wikimedia Commons

More Photos
And here are some more photos of this unique creature. All of them are by Sérgio Monteiro, from ProjectNoah. Please contact him if you wish to reuse them:

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