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The Brazilian Treehopper may be the strangest creature we've ever laid eyes on

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Because holy crap, just look at that headgear. Everyone, meet Bocydium globulare. Better known as the Brazilian treehopper, B. globulare excels at living a solitary life, hanging out on the leaves of glory bushes, and head-sphering its way into your nightmares.

The Brazilian treehopper is 100% real, but the image up top is of a beautifully crafted model, created by legendary science sculptor Alfred Keller (1902—1955). Over on Why Evolution is True, Jerry Coyne reflects on a 2010 Nature profile on Keller (warning: paywall), his sculptures, and the utter weirdness of B. globulare.


"The first thing a biologist does on seeing a model like this is think, 'This can't be real,' and resorts to some Googling," writes Coyne. "Sure enough, it's a real insect."

He continues:

The second thing one asks is, "What the bloody hell is all that ornamentation on the thorax?" (Note that the "balls" on the antenna-like structure aren't eyes, but simply spheres of chitin.) A first guess is that it's a sexually-selected trait, but those are often limited to males, and these creatures (and the ones below) show the ornaments in both sexes. [Art Historian Martin Kemp, an expert on visualization in art and science] hypothesizes-and this seems quite reasonable-that "the hollow globes, like the remarkable excrescences exhibited by other treehoppers, probably deter predators." It would be hard to grab, much less chow down on, a beast with all those spines and excrescences.

Note, though, that the ornament sports many bristles. If these are sensory bristles, and not just deterrents to predation or irritating spines, then the ornament may have an unknown tactile function.


See more photos of living treehoppers like the one pictured above — along with several other photos of membracids, the headgeared group of insects to which Bocydium globulare belongs — over on Why Evolution Is True.

See also: this gallery of weird treehopper insects, courtesy of New Scientist, and this series of amazing membracid photographs by photographer Patrick Landmann.

Tip of the peduncular hat to Maria!

Top image of a sculpture by Alfred Keller; photo of live treehopper by Patrick Landmann