Having visited bud bugs, stink bugs, and soldier bugs during the past month, this week we continue our sojourn into the realm of true bugs and learn the aromatically romantic
ways of leaf-footed bugs. On a recent visit to a cornfield, in addition to bevies of brown marmorated stink bugs, I notice legions of leaf-footed bugs probing kernels of corn directly at the tips of the ears or through the tough cover of the husk. Leaf-footed bugs, so named for the leaf-like expansion of their hind leg, belong to a guild of suckers that insert their hypodermic-like mouthparts into tender plant tissue. After injecting saliva laced with digestive enzymes, they withdraw nutritious fluids from the unfortunate plant.
Both the immature stages called nymphs and the winged adults feed in this remarkable manner. In addition to sucking the life from corn, the catholic diet of leaf-footed bugs includes crops such as cotton, squash, and tomatoes, trees such as oaks and maples, conifers, vines, and shrubs with representatives from fifteen families of plants. Adult leaf-footed bugs live for several months and eat large, but their reproduction occurs only in the presence of reproductive structures such as fruits on their host. Eggs of leaf-footed bugs are curious contraptions resembling tiny barrels, tipped on their sides, aligned in a neat row. One can only wonder about the strangely linear thinking used by the bug as she neatly arranges her brood on the surface of a leaf.
A circular bunghole on the side of each barrel provides the tiny nymph inside with an escape hatch once its development is complete. Like other bugs we met over the past few weeks, leaf-footed bugs release nasty scents to ward off attacks by hungry predators. However, male members of the leaf-footed clan have one more aromatic trick up their sleeve. A small gland in their abdomen produces aromatic compounds with the delightful scents of cherries, vanilla, cinnamon, or roses depending on the species of the bug. Each bug has a unique blend of compounds that allows the fair member of the species to locate and accept an appropriate mate of her own kind. So, in the world of the leaf-footed bug, beauty truly is only skin deep, it’s how you smell that really counts. This leaves one to wonder if there is a lesson here for males of other species.
Bug of the Week thanks Jeff Aldrich for an interesting discussion that was the inspiration for this episode. The fascinating articles “Host Plants ofLeptoglossus oppositus (Say) (Hemiptera: Coreidae)” by Paula Mitchell and Al Wheeler and “Species-specific natural products of adult male leaf-footed bugs (Hemiptera: Heteroptera)” by J. R. Aldrich, M. S. Blum and H. M. Fales were used in preparation of this story. To learn more about leaf-footed bugs, please visit the following web site.