We are slowly working our way through insect samples from salt marshes around New England and our undergrad Martina found something pretty insane recently. The following picture is of a planthopper in a Nantucket salt marsh
If you zoooooooooooooooom in you can see a weird little bubble on the abdomen of these little hoppers. If you zoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom in even further you can kind of see that that bubble has a head. What the heck is that?!
I had to consult marsh arthropod expert, and all around awesome ecologist, Dr Gina Wimp on this. Here is what she said:
This is one of my favorite things in the whole wide world – a parasitoid!!! This is a Dryinid parasitoid (Haplogonatopus). You are looking at the abdomen of the parasitoid protruding-out of the planthopper. The parasitoid does not kill the planthopper (usually), but sterilizes it. These planthoppers should consider themselves lucky, I have seen planthoppers with 3-4 parasitoids lined-up on the abdomen.
The other fun parasitoid that the planthoppers get is in the Strepsiptera (Elenchus). The female just looks like a dark plate on the abdomen, but you can actually see the face of the male on the side of the planthopper’s abdomen!! The male is winged, the female is not, and the male mates with her while she is still in the planthopper.”
Thanks Gina for that ID and if you want to hear more from her, check out the #MarshChat from a few months ago!