Mating Bird of Paradise Flies (Scale Insects) in Western Australia

Subject: Tree hopper – but WOW!
Location: College Grove (Bunbury), Western Australia
May 16, 2017 10:07 pm
Dear Bugman,
I live and work in Bunbury, Western Australia at a University campus in a natural bush setting. I have a favourite break-time perch on a fallen tree trunk, where for the past few months I have been noticing on occasion juvenile tree hoppers (possibly nymphs) climbing up the trunk of a nearby tree. I did not think to photograph them as they were – forgive me – rather plain looking. They had none of the lurid adornments of many hoppers (such as the ‘fluffy bums’), their tail end has two shortish spines which they carry erect.
Now that the rains have come, I have been noticing what may be an adult form of this hopper. It has the same colouration as the juvenile hoppers I was seeing. I have attached a photo of a single winged insect and what do you know, it has a spectacular tuft of white hair erupting from it’s backside, like I’ve seen in pictures of some nymphs of other hopper species! It is photographed on the trunk of the Banksia tree which I believe is the host plant. You can see that the insect’s colouration is a good match for the bark. They are not strong fliers, managing distances of only a metre or two at a time. They showed no interest in each other whenever they met by chance, which had me wondering if I was seeing represented only one sex.
I was not left wondering for long, as yesterday I found several of what appear to be the mature female form of the insect – and what an amazing creature she is! She is wingless and appears to fully retain her larval form, however is MANY times the size of the male. The specimen I photographed was making her way across damp leaf litter under the trees. Dwarfed by her enormous size, you can see three males on her back, which makes me think I’m definitely seeing male and female of the same species. I saw several specimens with males attached.
I am amazed that what I thought was a rather plain treehopper may be very unusual indeed – the extreme sexual dimorphism suggests the males and females have very different lifestyles, – ‘conventional’ hopper males in the treetops and giant larval females perhaps among the leaf litter. If I had not seen them together, I would never have imagined they were the same species. I have not been able to find any images online that are similar to my specimens, nor any indication that such dimorphism is common in hoppers. I am excited to have found such an unusual and seemingly undocumented insect.
What do you think, Bugman?
Signature: Glenn Brockman

Male Bird of Paradise Scale Insect

Hi Glenn,
What we think is that your images are amazing, and that this is a really exciting posting for us, but these are NOT Treehoppers, but they are members of the same order Hemiptera.  We quickly identified the male Scale Insect as a Bird of Paradise Fly from the genus
Callipappus, thanks to the Australian Museum site where it states:  “This genus includes some of the largest known scale insects in the world. The males and females look completely different. Males are delicate and exotic insects, whilst females are flightless grub-like insects.”  The site also states:  “Males have the front pair of wings well-developed for flying, with the hind pair of wings reduced, so that they look superficially like true flies in the order Diptera. The mouthparts are not functional, so the usual characteristic of the order Hemiptera (“sucking mouthparts”) is not visible. Males have long waxy filaments protruding from the tip of their abdomen, and when they fly they resemble dandelion seed heads. The wings and body are often coloured with vivid violet or red.  Adult females are large, up to 40mm long, often covered in waxy powder, and are usually found immobile and attached to vertical surfaces such as trees and fence posts.”  More information provided on Australian Museum states:  “Females moult into the adult stage and crawl up above ground and onto vertical structures such as trees and fence posts. Males mate with the females at this stage, then the females crawl to a protected place such as under bark, or in a crevice, where they become immobile and appear essentially dead. At this stage the four posterior segments of the abdomen are retracted into the abdomen to form a large cavity (“marsupium”), with a posterior slit-like opening. The first instar nymphs (“crawlers”) develop inside this marsupium in the dead leathery body of the mother, then emerge, dropping onto vegetation and soil. Mortality of these crawlers must be very high as 1,000 to 2,000 are produced per female.”  The site also states:  “Immature stages live underground on roots of plant hosts where they suck sap. Food plants are poorly known, as adult females often move away from nymphal feeding locations.”  You might have discovered that Banksia is a food plant.  The Bird of Paradise Fly and its mating habits are also profiled on the Brisbane Insect site where Violet Pheonix is listed as an alternate name and this information:  “The male has a small head and two black eyes, antenna are about the same length as it body. The male has only one pair of wings. We cannot see any sign of the second pair of wings. The wing veins are simple. They do not put down their wings when rest. We cannot see their mouth parts. The female is much larger than the male and is wingless. She has the flat and scout body with small eyes. She has the antenna about the same length as the male’s. She has three pairs of strong legs for climbing up the gum tree trunk. We believe they are going to lay eggs on the tree top.”  Thank you for contributing this marvelous addition to our site.

Mating Bird of Paradise Scale Insects

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