27 Jun

Lights, Camera, Lantern Bug!

What has six legs, the horn of a rhinoceros, the mouth of a mosquito, and can fly? The question might sound like the imaginative ramblings of a second grader, yet in the wacky world of insects there is an answer.

A lantern bug (Pyrops candelaria) on a tree branch. Huay Xai, Bokeo, Laos

Wild and Weird

Meet one of nature’s oddities, the Lantern Bug. Its scientific name is pyrops candelaria. With your first glance at the picture seen here, you might assume it was created using Photoshop; however, that is not the case. No photos were harmed in the making of this blog. The lantern bug is real and native to parts of China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. Its long, bright red snout makes for an interesting feature. Due to its fantastic coloring and unusual appearance, collectors will go to great lengths to seek out and secure one of these odd insects. People unfamiliar with the lantern bug often panic when they first spot one, yet it is not a threat to humans, pets, or animals of any kind.

Noses and Needles

You might be recalling the earlier comment about the mosquito mouth, Pyrops candelaria indeed possesses a long, needle-like mouth, however blood is not part of the insect’s diet; rather it uses its sharp rostrum to puncture trees, fruit, and plants in order to get a juicy meal of sticky sap. The lantern bug eats the same way as aphids. Since sap is high in sugar and low in the other nutrients needed for insect development, sap-suckers simply eat more. A lot more. Imagine needing to eat thousands of sweet donuts in order to get your daily requirement of protein. The large amount of sugar causes a problem for the lantern bug; it solves this by allowing the excess sap to drip from its body as honeydew. Maybe the side effect of mass donut eating wouldn’t be worth it . . .

Food for Thought

As a strict herbivore, pyrops candelaria is fond of lychee and longan trees. Both are fruit bearing and the lantern bug can’t get enough of the slimy fruit. Lychee fruit is sweet and has a jelly like consistency, while longan fruit has been described as tasting similar to musky fish.

Though the lantern bug’s name implies a relation to the firefly, the insect never emits light. Early scientists thought the large red snout could yield photoluminescence and coined both common and Latin names. By the time the error was discovered, both names had stuck. It helps that the bright yellow and green wings are lantern shaped.

Lantern bugs are large insects, closely related to cicadas. They can get up to 3 inches long. Look down at your middle finger, which is a good size reference. In flight, their wing span width is 2.5 inches. Resting in your palm it would take up two thirds of the area.

Pyrops candelaria or the lantern bug is another fine example of the strange, weird, and wonderful world of insects. The next time you play 100 questions, you can’t lose when you know your bugs.

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